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Marmot Prince

Why the Alpine Starts on Rainier?

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Originally Posted By: akhalteke

 

 

1) Glacier experience, crevasse rescue, self rescue crevasse training, AMS prevention Glacial route finding, whiteout navigation, wilderness first aid, snow anchor placement, ice anchor placement, rope management skills, how to avoid high altitude ailments like corneal burns, self arrest techniques, escape the belay techniques, shall I go on?

 

You answered: those are skills not experience.

 

Really??? those are skills gained by experience you block head!

 

Oh comeon, I clearly agree with your statement if you read the rest of my post. You people must actually spend your time reading brief phrases from me, then deliberately ignoring the rest of the posts just to score points. Is this really worth it to you?

 

Were you to go back and re-read the main thread and also the "speculation" thread, you will find that they made a series a small miscalculations that cumulatively cascaded into a full-on clusterf$%&. Yes, the poor weather arrived earlier than forecasted. Yes, said weather arrived from a direction which they could not monitor. Yes, they were travelling "fast and light" in winter, but when doing so and confronted with deteriorating conditions, it is better to retire than to press a bad situation into a worse situation. Going F&L in summer and becoming engaged in a clusterfuck will make for merely a mildly unpleasant evening somewhere en route. Going F&L in winter and becoming engaged in a clusterfuck will leave one very little margin for error, as has been aptly demonstrated.

 

Look I don't want to contradict you but from what I read, there was no option to "retire". It sounds like one of them was immobilized by injury high on the route, almost on the summit. The others probably spent plenty of their reserve energy and time trying to move him to a shelter. As they saw their injured partner and the weather deteriorate they decided the best hope to was to descend. In 100-140 mph winds and whiteout conditions they lost their way down and probably fell to their deaths. Again, I'm just saying what I read, please free to factually correct me.

 

By what logic do you arrive at this conclusion? Many of us here have read that read as the tradegy was unfolding, there was a companion thread full of speculation after the vent had passed, and might I add that many of us on this board were actually on the mountain looking for them as the days went by. So to my untrained e-mountaineer eye, it appears to me that you're making incorrect assumptions and proceeding from a false premise.

 

Ok you're right, I was a little too broad when stating "none', but the stroke of my post meant that alot of people in this thread were assuming the story was about some idiot when three experienced mountaineers died.

 

Wikipedia: James was also a veteran mountaineer with more than 25 years experience climbing mountains including Mount McKinley, the Eiger, and Alpamayo, along with guiding dozens of climbs on Mount Rainier.

Edited by Marmot Prince

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just to add on what Sandy said, I started out like most people and that would be book learned in the alpine skills. I thought I knew the alpine rescue skills. I found that I didn't really know jack sh$t till I had to teach someone these skills and perform those skills many times over a couple years. I suppose that performing the rescues would have a better affect but those opportunities thankfully happen infrequently. Point is, thinking you know the skills and actually being able to perform those skills are not the same. Experience is where the wisdom to use skills and avoid accidents come from.

 

So with sincerity, I would suggest that one would climb rainier many times before even thinking of soloing it. Then you would not have to ask any questions about alpine starts as you would have all the answers already.

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Look I don't want to contradict you but from what I read, there was no option to "retire". It sounds like one of them was immobilized by injury high on the route, almost on the summit. The others probably spent plenty of their reserve energy and time trying to move him to a shelter. As they saw their injured partner and the weather deteriorate they decided the best hope to was to descend. In 100-140 mph winds and whiteout conditions they lost their way down and probably fell to their deaths. Again, I'm just saying what I read, please free to factually correct me.

If memory serves, the dates of their departure from the TJ cabin/trailhead and the arrival of the poor weather that was forecasted were in such proximity in time that the climbers would still have been low enough on the route to retire safely. The fact that one of them was found (dead) in a snow cave with an injury (shoulder, IIRC) so near the summit would suggest that they either ignored the weather, or thought that they could beat it, or maybe even force their way through it, and they continued upward into a storm which then put them into a position from which they could not retire.

 

Either way, they climbed up into a storm that they knew was coming. Given that they knew the storm was coming, and it arrived earlier than expected (while they were still low enough to retire), it is my opinion that they made an error in judgment by continuing upward into a winter storm while operating under a light and fast tactic. These points, taken individually, may have made for an uncomfortable day. But taken together as a whole, they do not allow for much margin for error. This does NOT AT ALL mean that they were n00bs. They just made a bad call.

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just to add on what Sandy said, I started out like most people and that would be book learned in the alpine skills. I thought I knew the alpine rescue skills. I found that I didn't really know jack sh$t till I had to teach someone these skills and perform those skills many times over a couple years. I suppose that performing the rescues would have a better affect but those opportunities thankfully happen infrequently. Point is, thinking you know the skills and actually being able to perform those skills are not the same. Experience is where the wisdom to use skills and avoid accidents come from.

 

So with sincerity, I would suggest that one would climb rainier many times before even thinking of soloing it. Then you would not have to ask any questions about alpine starts as you would have all the answers already.

 

Yes, I've seen some funny glacier rescue training by some leaders I've climbed with, it was a circus of rusty skills, and this was from the leaders who organized the trip. I definitely make some efforts to practice and refresh technical skills, so I can do it in the dark, exhausted and stressed but I have alot of work to do.

 

 

Look I don't want to contradict you but from what I read, there was no option to "retire". It sounds like one of them was immobilized by injury high on the route, almost on the summit. The others probably spent plenty of their reserve energy and time trying to move him to a shelter. As they saw their injured partner and the weather deteriorate they decided the best hope to was to descend. In 100-140 mph winds and whiteout conditions they lost their way down and probably fell to their deaths. Again, I'm just saying what I read, please free to factually correct me.

If memory serves, the dates of their departure from the TJ cabin/trailhead and the arrival of the poor weather that was forecasted were in such proximity in time that the climbers would still have been low enough on the route to retire safely. The fact that one of them was found (dead) in a snow cave with an injury (shoulder, IIRC) so near the summit would suggest that they either ignored the weather, or thought that they could beat it, or maybe even force their way through it, and they continued upward into a storm which then put them into a position from which they could not retire.

 

Either way, they climbed up into a storm that they knew was coming. Given that they knew the storm was coming, and it arrived earlier than expected (while they were still low enough to retire), it is my opinion that they made an error in judgment by continuing upward into a winter storm while operating under a light and fast tactic. These points, taken individually, may have made for an uncomfortable day. But taken together as a whole, they do not allow for much margin for error. This does NOT AT ALL mean that they were n00bs. They just made a bad call.

 

Ok I think I understand. After reading the 40 pages of threads on the accident I really was too tired to read the speculation, thanks for the good analysis.

 

This thread is a good example of the difference between opinion and experience.

 

Just sayin'

 

I'm happy to take both.

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The reasons for early starts on Rainier have been pretty clearly stated, as have the reasons that someone who has only climbed CO 14ers ought to consider Rainier a different animal entirely. For the itinerary you have posted, anything but an alpine start is foolish. Not only will starting early make your travel up safer and faster, it will give you time, once on top to see how you are dealing with the altitude and, perhaps, descend to a lower elevation for the night (see climb high, sleep low). I don't think it wise to attempt a single day solo with the intent of carrying bivy/camping gear to spend the night up top with a late start; the weight from the gear will slow you down (15lbs is a lot to move 40,000 steps) potentially leaving you climbing into the night (which would also mean digging a tent/bivy site in the dark).

As a guide on Mt. Shasta, I would never advise my clients or other climbers to make an attempt at camping on or near the summit. Hell, I'd be wary of such a thing even after a summer of living between 8-14k. If you haven't any experience with how your body feels with AMS or even HACE you shouldn't be so quick to say that you'll simply go down. I've had HACE; one's ability to make decisions, have thoughts or deal with shit is absolutely nil. I've also had a client with HACE, and seen how difficult it is for them to do simple tasks even with me holding their hand and coaching them through every step down. Apart from the medical complications that could arise, the physical aspect is equally large, even if you're in the best shape of your life. 9k of snow travel in a day is huge, especially coming from lower elevations and without prior experience on Rainier; if you start late it will be an even bigger challenge. People have and will continue to die doing such things. I think you'd be wise to listen to the legitimate feedback you've been given by some very strong, experienced WA climbers and reconsider your plans.

 

 

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Also, as a solo climber on a well cracked glacier, rope and crevasse rescue skills are irrelevant, unless you're bringing your pug and making him walk first to test the bridges...

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The reasons for early starts on Rainier have been pretty clearly stated, as have the reasons that someone who has only climbed CO 14ers ought to consider Rainier a different animal entirely. For the itinerary you have posted, anything but an alpine start is foolish. Not only will starting early make your travel up safer and faster, it will give you time, once on top to see how you are dealing with the altitude and, perhaps, descend to a lower elevation for the night (see climb high, sleep low). I don't think it wise to attempt a single day solo with the intent of carrying bivy/camping gear to spend the night up top with a late start; the weight from the gear will slow you down (15lbs is a lot to move 40,000 steps) potentially leaving you climbing into the night (which would also mean digging a tent/bivy site in the dark).

As a guide on Mt. Shasta, I would never advise my clients or other climbers to make an attempt at camping on or near the summit. Hell, I'd be wary of such a thing even after a summer of living between 8-14k. If you haven't any experience with how your body feels with AMS or even HACE you shouldn't be so quick to say that you'll simply go down. I've had HACE; one's ability to make decisions, have thoughts or deal with shit is absolutely nil. I've also had a client with HACE, and seen how difficult it is for them to do simple tasks even with me holding their hand and coaching them through every step down. Apart from the medical complications that could arise, the physical aspect is equally large, even if you're in the best shape of your life. 9k of snow travel in a day is huge, especially coming from lower elevations and without prior experience on Rainier; if you start late it will be an even bigger challenge. People have and will continue to die doing such things. I think you'd be wise to listen to the legitimate feedback you've been given by some very strong, experienced WA climbers and reconsider your plans.

 

 

Great advice. :tup:

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The reasons for early starts on Rainier have been pretty clearly stated, as have the reasons that someone who has only climbed CO 14ers ought to consider Rainier a different animal entirely. For the itinerary you have posted, anything but an alpine start is foolish. Not only will starting early make your travel up safer and faster, it will give you time, once on top to see how you are dealing with the altitude and, perhaps, descend to a lower elevation for the night (see climb high, sleep low). I don't think it wise to attempt a single day solo with the intent of carrying bivy/camping gear to spend the night up top with a late start; the weight from the gear will slow you down (15lbs is a lot to move 40,000 steps) potentially leaving you climbing into the night (which would also mean digging a tent/bivy site in the dark).

As a guide on Mt. Shasta, I would never advise my clients or other climbers to make an attempt at camping on or near the summit. Hell, I'd be wary of such a thing even after a summer of living between 8-14k. If you haven't any experience with how your body feels with AMS or even HACE you shouldn't be so quick to say that you'll simply go down. I've had HACE; one's ability to make decisions, have thoughts or deal with shit is absolutely nil. I've also had a client with HACE, and seen how difficult it is for them to do simple tasks even with me holding their hand and coaching them through every step down. Apart from the medical complications that could arise, the physical aspect is equally large, even if you're in the best shape of your life. 9k of snow travel in a day is huge, especially coming from lower elevations and without prior experience on Rainier; if you start late it will be an even bigger challenge. People have and will continue to die doing such things. I think you'd be wise to listen to the legitimate feedback you've been given by some very strong, experienced WA climbers and reconsider your plans.

 

 

Yes I have dropped the idea of doing the peak in one day to a very very low level. Probably Ingraham flats on the first night and then I'll see how I feel. I'll be acclimizing the night before Ingraham too.

 

Yes, I understand HACE is likely as good as death solo. Everything I understand about HACE suggests it is rare below 20,000' and is preceded by serious AMS symptoms. Also I believe that epic efforts greatly bring on AMS symtoms. Can you comment more on what altitudes you have experienced HACE?

 

By the way I have never climbed any CO 14ers. I have climbed some Sierra ones, they probably have a little more flavor than CO but obviously don't have extensive crevasse navigation. I sleep high on those, including the summit Mt Whitney from sea level, with some mild AMS symptoms.

 

Also, do you think conservatively soloing Casaval Ridge in March under carefully watched conditions could be an appropriate step after winter experience on the Sierra 14ers?

 

Also, as a solo climber on a well cracked glacier, rope and crevasse rescue skills are irrelevant, unless you're bringing your pug and making him walk first to test the bridges...

 

Yes, I have pointed this out before in this thread. I'm having trouble finding a headlamp for the pug and also worried about snow blindness for him so I guess he's out.

Edited by Marmot Prince

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My case was preceded by AMS symptoms and I probably should have turned down sooner, but lesson learned. My clients case was very sudden onset; I did not observe any symptoms of serious or moderate AMS previous to him vomiting and displaying a severely altered mental state. His symptoms were alleviated somewhat with hydration, food intake and rapid descent. He suffered an anxiety attack (for which my best guess was a combination of emotional and physical stress, and fatigue from his episode) on the drive back to town. You are right in saying that HACE does not usually occur at altitudes gained in the contiguous 48, however I think that might be a skewed statistic because it is usually much more simple to descend from altitude in WA or CO than it is in AK, the Himilaya or S. America. And recall that there have been many deaths in the US where even a moderate case of AMS combined with otherwise manageable situations has resulted in death.

 

Having not climbed any sierra 14ers I can only go from what people have told me; most say that climbing Shasta (much simpler than Rainier) is very much harder than the standard climbs/hikes of the Sierras, neither of which have any significant glacier travel/danger.

 

I think that the Casaval Ridge would prepare you well for the DC's climbing and altitude, however March is a wonderfully unpredictable month for weather on Shasta. Huge storms can move in very, very quickly and sit for days, dropping feet and blowing at or above gale force. If you decide to try it, I'd definitely find a partner (any of your serious mountaineering buddies should jump at this if you advertise the 7k ski at the end) and try to pick a weather window. The best thing about casaval is that for most of the route retreat to the west face (and is some parts Avalanche Gulch) is quite easy. And considering that the weather, usually moves in from the SW you'll have a good view on how things in the sky are shaping up (and cell phone reception to get up-to-date wx forecasts).

 

p.s. must have misread that you had climbed in CO, perhaps it was one of the other "e-mountaineers" haha!

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One of the reasons I've always thought of alpine start from Muir is the avy danger in the afternoon and the melt out of rock in the afternoon. As the afternoon sun gets high, the rockfall actually increases on Cathedral. Also, the sun hitting the cleaver in the afternoon can cause some questionable sluffs. That's why I've always thought of Alpine starts on Rainier. I don't even consider AMS to be a factor. Yes, if you climb too high too fast, AMS is a factor, but you can mitigate it on a carry over, and through taking care of yourself.

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My bad, I must have forgotten about this part. It was 5 years ago... The dead climber found in the snow cave (Kelly James) was autopsied and no debilitating injuries were found. From here, 4th post from the bottom of the page.

 

HOOD RIVER, Ore. -- Autopsy results Wednesday showed that Mt. Hood climber Kelly James, whose body was recovered Monday, was not injured as previously thought.

 

AP Photo

 

Brian Hall's sister, Angela Hall (left) and Sheriff Joe Wampler speak to the media.

 

James did not have a dislocated shoulder as reported by authorities earlier this week. Furthermore, James' body showed no broken bones or injuries that would have prevented his mobility, according to the state medical examiner, Dr. Larry Lewman.

 

Lewman did say it appears James suffered from hypothermia and dehydration.

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Everything I understand about HACE suggests it is rare below 20,000' and is preceded by serious AMS symptoms. Also I believe that epic efforts greatly bring on AMS symptoms.

 

That would be incorrect. HACE is actually pretty rare at almost any elevation, but can certainly be seen well below 20,000 feet and at elevations that can be reached in the Sierra, on Rainier, Colorado etc. One reason we may not see a ton of it here is that with severe altitude illness (HACE, HAPE), there's an important interaction between the altitude you reach and the time you spend there. It's not just a question of how high you go. It's easy to get into a range where HAPE and HACE can occur on Rainier but the nature of the climbs is such that most people hit the summit and come down soon thereafter, not allowing as much time for the problems to develop. This is different than trekking/climbing in Nepal where you might travel and stay above 14K for many days. Travel to and sleep in the summit crater on Rainier and the risk of those problems is higher than the standard ascent and descent soon after.

 

"Epic efforts" don't bring on AMS itself. What epic efforts do is bring on dehydration and/or physical exhaustion, whose symptoms can resemble the non-specific symptoms of AMS.

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Yeah, you are attempting to do something that you don't have enough knowledge to safely accomplish. What do you want? Are you a troll or are you that dumb? I have summitted all 14ers in Colorado and was never in as much objective hazard as I was every time on Rainier (except an unexpected storm on the diamond). People tried to clue you in and you are either 1) too stuborn, 2) too stupid or 3) a troll. Either way, I am done with you.

This IS a loaded question. I've climbed the hill plenty of times, a few of them were separate one day climbs. I have been on the mountain at all times of day climbing (never as a solo) and there are predictable places that crevasses occur year over year, and some not. I think it comes down to this:

 

 

 

If you are not familiar with where most of the crevasses form and how they form you shouldn't be solo--I recommend several trips up the same route if you plan to solo AFTER becoming familiar with the route (this is advice for people not familiar with glacier travel).

 

 

 

You're fighting against getting sick by tagging the summit and coming back down before illness can set in from altitude, so camping at the summit has potential risks that may present themselves at the worse possible time. Also, taking all the overnight gear on a solo to the summit creates a higher degree of complications.

 

 

 

It also depends on what time of the year and what the freezing level is as to figure out the take off time of a climb.

 

 

 

my .02..

 

 

 

Look,

 

How many glaciers did you cross on the 14ers? I've never been there but the hardest mountain by the easiest route is class 4 and with fifty-four of them that says something. Those peaks are rubble piles on a tall plateau.

 

It's really not informative to tell someone they don't have enough experience when

 

1. You won't describe the experience you need

2. You don't know the person your talking to

 

I'm not going to reconsider my attempted Rainier trip, because I'm not attempting it, ie, I'm before the stage where you can reconsider. I'm considering, ie, I am not attemping anything. You need to understand I'm perfectly willing not to go if people can explain why it is so extremely dangerous in good conditions if I'm willing to accept the crevasse risk, which people can and do.

 

Mentioning the 14ers doesn't really give me much information. I know they are significantly different than Rainier.

 

I'm from the northwest and where i'm from, the glaciers start at 3,000'. I've travelled on a many glaciers, probably a total of 40 hours on them in the last 3 years, although they much more mellow than Rainier. I've also worked on 40 degree snow for days where a fall would not be arrestable.

 

(now waiting for the inevitable spray which quotes one of my sentences about prior experience out of context)

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Your post is a little mashed up in the quotes but I got it, thanks.

 

I've updated the OP with a bit more information.

Edited by Marmot Prince

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Everything I understand about HACE suggests it is rare below 20,000' and is preceded by serious AMS symptoms. Also I believe that epic efforts greatly bring on AMS symptoms.

 

That would be incorrect. HACE is actually pretty rare at almost any elevation, but can certainly be seen well below 20,000 feet and at elevations that can be reached in the Sierra, on Rainier, Colorado etc. One reason we may not see a ton of it here is that with severe altitude illness (HACE, HAPE), there's an important interaction between the altitude you reach and the time you spend there. It's not just a question of how high you go. It's easy to get into a range where HAPE and HACE can occur on Rainier but the nature of the climbs is such that most people hit the summit and come down soon thereafter, not allowing as much time for the problems to develop. This is different than trekking/climbing in Nepal where you might travel and stay above 14K for many days. Travel to and sleep in the summit crater on Rainier and the risk of those problems is higher than the standard ascent and descent soon after.

 

"Epic efforts" don't bring on AMS itself. What epic efforts do is bring on dehydration and/or physical exhaustion, whose symptoms can resemble the non-specific symptoms of AMS.

 

There was a recent death by a cadet here in town of HAPE. This was only ~6,500 ft. There are not hard and fast rules and much of it comes down to the individual. I honestly do not believe that your will be incapacitated at 14,000 ft unless there is something wrong with you.

 

We DID have one guy on an expedition who got to 12,000 and was crushed; Went to 15,000 and I had to put him in the Gamow bag and get him down asap. This gent did have a Hx of HAPE and severe AMS on Shasta or some other 14er but it is really really rare for someone to be this shitty at altitude.

 

I would say the more likely dangers (especially solo) are crevasses, rock fall and weather. All of these dangers can be reduced by knowledge and timing but still risky; even for a seasoned glacier mountaineer.

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You WILL get a shitty headache though on a one-day ascent to 14 while acclimatized to sea level. They CAN shut you down just because they hurt so damn bad!

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there's an important interaction between the altitude you reach and the time you spend there. It's not just a question of how high you go. It's easy to get into a range where HAPE and HACE can occur on Rainier but the nature of the climbs is such that most people hit the summit and come down soon thereafter

 

I've believed this for a long time based on personal experience. One can, if they are fit enough, 'outrun' altitude problems on Rainier, to a certain extent.

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Darn laptop, here's the unsmashed version hopefully..looks like others have answered the solo--alpine start thing:

 

I've climbed the hill plenty of times, a few of them were separate one day climbs. I have been on the mountain at all times of day climbing (never as a solo) and there are predictable places that crevasses occur year over year, and some not. I think it comes down to this:

 

If you are not familiar with where most of the crevasses form and how they form you shouldn't be solo--I recommend several trips up the same route if you plan to solo AFTER becoming familiar with the route (this is advice for people not familiar with glacier travel).

 

 

 

You're fighting against getting sick by tagging the summit and coming back down before illness can set in from altitude, so camping at the summit has potential risks that may present themselves at the worse possible time. Also, taking all the overnight gear on a solo to the summit creates a higher degree of complications.

 

 

 

It also depends on what time of the year and what the freezing level is as to figure out the take off time of a climb.

 

 

 

my .02..

 

 

 

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