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Scramblin_Jones

Ptarmigan Traverse

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A buddy of mine is talking seriously about the Ptarmigan Traverse this summer (August). Our little backpacking group does not have crevasse rescue training. Is he talking suicide or hair raising adventure?

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Overheard in a gearshop

 

"I'm going to climb Rainier this weekend. How many pickets do I need?"

 

"Well, do you know how to make a snow anchor?"

 

"No."

 

"Then you don't need any pickets"

 

 

 

 

You've got plenty of time to figure out crevasse rescue between now and summertime. Hire a guide to show you, or take a class, or just grab a book and practice off your porch until everything works.

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Kind of reminds me of...

A friend of mine in a hardware store in Enumclaw.

New Enumclaw resident comes in to the hardware store asking the 'good ole boys' about how to not fall off his roof while cleaning the gutters.

My 'good ole boy' friend steps in to tell him the first thing is to buy a rope. Get a good stout one. Then learn how to tie a good knot - one that won't come loose. Then tie one end of the rope to the chimney and the other end around your neck. You're much less likely to fall off that way ...

 

Thanks for the read on the terrain hazards. The only feedback I've received on the route so far is from those who have done it - 20 years ago. So I was wondering if the snow meltout in recent years had made those crevasses go away or ???

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Somebody jump on me if I've got this wrong but a glacier you were on "20 years ago" will today either be A) missing, in which case crevasse rescue will not be an issue, or B) a lot more broken up, in which case crevasse rescue would be a pretty handy skill.

 

I don't think the glacier segments of the Ptarmigan have gone away.

 

You can learn the rudiments of crevasse rescue in a day, easy, and if you're already carrying a rope the other stuff weighs nothing. I'd go prepared.

 

Meaning absolutely no disrespect to the dead it would seem horribly regrettable to perish in a crevasse simply because you and your partners lacked the modest skills and small amount of stuff needed to get out.

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So I was wondering if the snow melt out in recent years had made those crevasses go away or ???

 

FYI when all the snow melts off a glacier all that is left is the dry glacier... a great big piece of glacial ice. They are easy to avoid falling in a hole as all the crevasses are in the open (not hiding under snow) but can be difficult in crossing as having to climb in/out/around all these take longer. Make sense? wave.gif

 

I did the traverse in 2004 and 2005. How hard is it to safely navigate the terrain? Depends on your experience but if you take the time to learn how to do crevasse rescue you should be fine. The time of year you go will effect how difficult the glaciers are.

 

I think most people who have done it would agree it is relatively tame assuming you have some concept of glacier travel. And as you have time before you go if you don't you have time to learn. I am willing to bet a 6 pack of bigdrink.gif might get you some instruction from some users on this site.

 

If you want a pics or beta let me know. wazzup.gif

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1)Somebody jump on me if I've got this wrong but a glacier you were on "20 years ago" will today either be A) missing, in which case crevasse rescue will not be an issue, or B) a lot more broken up, in which case crevasse rescue would be a pretty handy skill.

 

2) I don't think the glacier segments of the Ptarmigan have gone away.

 

3) You can learn the rudiments of crevasse rescue in a day, easy, and if you're already carrying a rope the other stuff weighs nothing. I'd go prepared.

 

4) Meaning absolutely no disrespect to the dead it would seem horribly regrettable to perish in a crevasse simply because you and your partners lacked the modest skills and small amount of stuff needed to get out.

 

Correct on all 4 points dude! wave.gifyoda.gif PT is a great trip if you go light. thumbs_up.gif

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Isn't "hair raising adventure" the same thing as "we got lucky and nothing bad happened, cause of it did, we would have been fucked"?

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Ptarmigan Traverse is very tame as far as glacier travel goes, but that doesnt mean it can't be dangerous and that glacier travel skills are not needed. both times I've been on it we only roped up for some shorter, select sections of the glaciers. Still, the top of the Middle Cascade glacier and LeConte glacier especially are dangerous and it would be unwise to travel over that kind of terrain with no clue.

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The glaciers are fairly tame, but as Alex said, the Le Conte, especially later in the season can be exciting. These are also big glaciers that we are talking about, not just a small pocket glacier. As well, you are in the wilderness, so don't expect quick help. We first tried the traverse in July and had to bail after a day and a half of bad weather. The glaciers had a lot of snow and looked tame. We came back and completed the traverse in late Aug/early Sept and the glaciers were very broken. I could not believe how many cracks we had been walking over and how broken the glacier was. Several section required down climbing into a crevasse and climbing back out. Alex punched through a couple totallt hidden crevasses on the Le Conte and the Middle Cascade Glacier. The Ptarmigan is one of the best outings I've had in the Cascades, and is not hard, but pay respect.

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The Ptarmigan Traverse is not a typical backpacking adventure. Although it's not particularly challenging to experienced mountaineers in a technical sense, it is several days of strenuous travel with a whole range of mountaineering hazards and some surprises. For instance when I did the Traverse during an August we encountered extensive cravasses on the Le Conte and had to climb about 15-20 ft of verticle ice from a collapsed snow bridge to make it through. It was easy (actually fun) for the experienced in the group but challenging for one or two of the spouses.

 

If your backpacking group has not traveled meaningful distances offtrail, on snow and glacier, or experienced climbing exposure (e.g. traversing the Red Ledge) your group may not succeed and your time could have been spent more pleasurably elsewhere. I'd sugggest you spend time this winter learning general mountaineering skills including safe glacier travel and spend June and July taking practice trips that include less ambitious off trail backpacking. Perhaps try hikes like Boston Basin and Colchuck/Aasgard Pass/Enchantments that offer a small taste of off trail and snow.

 

With that said, go for it and have a blast.

Edited by still_climbin

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Dude, get the skills. Its one of the most beautiful trips I'vs ever done in WA. Totally worth the time it takes to learn cevasse rescue.

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You can not "just walk around the Glaciers". Several high passes on the route can only be reached by fairly long glacier crossings with plenty of crevasses.

 

Rescue skills are a good idea, but don't neglect learning and practicing the basics, such as walking and climbing with crampons and an ice axe. You should be comfortable walking in crampons, climbing in ballance, executing self arrest and self belay with an ice ax and basic rope management in order to reduce the likelyhood of the need for self rescue, as well as to give yourselves the confidence to enjoy glacier travel. You need to be good with map and compass as well; long stretches of the route have no visible trail and getting lost can be very time consuming. You will also want to be comfortable scrambling up and down steep slopes strewn with loose rock, scree, rotten snow and so forth.

 

Try and keep your packs as light as possible. The easiest way to do this is to bring less stuff. Bring only things you really need. When you buy gear try to choose particularly light things.

 

The Ptarmigan is a lot of fun if you are comfortable with steep scrambling and cramponing on ice or snow as well as strenuous hiking, but I have met less experienced hikers that came from far away to do the Ptarmigan and were scared off by steep snow right at the start. This is dramatic and challenging terrain that does not seem hard to experienced climbers, but might turn out to be terrifying to the inexperienced.

 

There is lots of great hiking in every direction in the immediate vicinity of the Ptarmigan; so you won't have wasted the trip out here even if the Ptarmigan turns out to be intimidating when you get a look at it. Bring some extra maps for an alternate hike. Bad weather might also make you decide to hike on nearby trails instead of the Ptarmigan.

 

If you do the Ptarmigan in August most of the snow will be off the glaciers, so crevasses will be easy to see. On the other hand there will be steep stretches of glacier that may be too icy for self arrest with an ice ax to stop you from falling out of control should you trip and fall. If you are tied together with a rope you may well all fall, unless you have a few ice screws and know how to place them to provide a running belay. Some experienced climbers will not hesitate to solo these relatively low angle glaciers (climb unroped) when the ice is free of snow and the crevasses are all visible, but there are places where a slip or stumble could easily kill you without a rope and some sort of anchors in place. In early season (through July perhaps) there will be a lot of snow, both on the glaciers, hiding crevasses, and on steep slopes throughout the route. Again, if you are comfortable with snow it can even make travel easier, but if you are not comfortable on steep snow it can be scary.

 

If you spend some time searching people's personal climbing web sites you will probably find good photos parts of the route. These may help you get some idea what the terrain is like. I would not recomend setting off on the Ptarmigan without first getting some training on less committing glacier routes.

Edited by Nick

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