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jon

Mt Rainier Rescue

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Hope for the best. Several years back two of my climbing partners teamed up with another group of two and made it down after 11days.

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Since I first heard about this on the news a few days ago, I've been wondering if anyone on these two teams was aware of the imminent major weather event bearing down on the Pac NW before or perhaps, as, they began their trips.

 

A good plan is,(besides not pushing it and taking risky chances with the weather) to begin your approach while the previous storm system is on it's way out, putting you in safe position to make your summit attempt the moment the weather window opens. And you then have a little longer margin of safety for your descent than you would have had if you'd waited till the weather was perfect to begin your approach.

 

The basic rule for one-day climbs in the Pac NW/Cascades is to allow a total weather window of at least 72 hrs from where you begin your summit attempt, NOT from the start of the approach. And that 72 hr. number can be increased if the good weather is available, and if the climb might require more. But it should never DEcrease in the case of even easy routes on large alpine or glaciated peaks. 72hrs. should be considered the MINIMUM time allowable for anything involving an overnight stay on the peak. I'm not talking about things like day trips to Chair Pk or the Tooth,Town Wall,Tumwater Canyon or Snow Creek Wall. But if you're doing Mt. Baring, Prusik Pk. or Stuart, anything on Rainier, Baker, Adams, big peaks like Hozomeen, Slesse, Logan,Bonanza,etc., there's your basic rule, ESPECIALLY at this time of year.

 

I also hope the climbers (has anyone heard which route they were on?) have some avalanche knowledge and don't try to move too soon once the weather breaks. It'd be a hell of a thing to tough it out for 10 or 12 days, and then get killed by an avalanche on a beautiful day on the way down. It has happened. Prayers and best hopes for everyone's safe return, and that includes the rescue team as well.

 

 

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Has anybody read the comments in the above linked article? This gem strikes me as particularly odd:

 

"I remember a comment by Ed Viesturs (not sure of the spelling) at the time of the loss of two climbers on Mt. Hood in the early winter a few years ago. He basically said that he never climbs in the Northern Hemisphere after late November, even on 10K feet peaks...if he gets the strong urge to do so, he heads south."

 

 

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Since I first heard about this on the news a few days ago, I've been wondering if anyone on these two teams was aware of the imminent major weather event bearing down on the Pac NW before or perhaps, as, they began their trips.

 

I'm hoping for the best for these two parties and hope they make it back safely.

 

That said, once the parties make it back they deserve to be chastised for the poor judgement in heading onto the mountain with a storm being predicted.

 

 

Such poor decision making has put rescuers at risk and provides ammunition for those that would seek to enforce heavy handed regulations on climbers (such as requirement to carry PLB's, etc.)

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Hmmm; I've never heard of Ed Viesturs saying anything like that, although that doesn't mean he didn't--I just don't know. But in the climbing that Viesturs has done on Himalayan 8000 meter peaks, it's inevitable that you would run into winter-like conditions,even during the regular season, and to be caught out in it at times. In those cases being well-prepared with the right gear, skills,conditioning and experience, can make the difference between a routine bad-weather day on the mountain, and a desperate survival struggle, or worse.

 

However, having said that, there IS an extra consideration to be made regarding winter climbs in the Northern Hemisphere, and especially in the Pac NW. And that has to do with the combination of what are generally more severe winter conditions on Northwest peaks, than are found on Himalayan peaks during their regular season. Because the Himalayas are near the Equator, the air pressure of the atmosphere is greater; the atmosphere is thicker at the Equator than at the poles. Therefore, the farther North you are, the lower the overall atmospheric air pressure. That's why climbing at 17,000 on Denali can equate to being at 24,000 or more on a big Himalayan peak,just in terms of the oxygen content of the atmosphere. This effect is of course intensified during a storm, when a low pressure system is moving through. With the added factor of much more serious cold (Denali can have storms with winds of over 100 mph combined with temps down to 70 below, and windchill chill factors of 100 below zero) and longer storms of greater sustained intensity than is common on even the highest Himalayan peaks, that's very serious stuff indeed.Conditions like these can make it an extreme struggle to just to do simple things like melting snow for water, and if you can't stay well-hydrated and warm, you're at increased risk, or inevitable certainty, for frostbite, hypothermia, and death.

 

Now that's for Alaskan mountaineering. I'm not sure what the corresponding factors are with Cascades peaks. Obviously the altitude is far less, and the cold is not as deep. But the winds can be every bit of what Alaska might provide. And I think it's notable that the 1963 and 1976 American Everest teams, and others since, have trained on Rainier because they felt that Winter conditions on Rainier would actually be MORE severe than anything Everest would throw at them during it's regular season. And of course Rainier has claimed the lives of many good climbers,including, sadly,its' own son, the great Willi Unsoeld of that very '63 Everest team,killed with several of his students from Evergreen State College by an avalanche during a winter climb. It doesn't matter to Rainier, who you are, or how good.

 

Mt. Hood, although only a comparatively humble 11,234 el., is a whole 'nother story, as they say. After the three climbers were lost during the winter of 2006, Fred Beckey had some interesting things to say about the incident, and about general considerations for winter climbing on Hood. First, he felt that the climbers had seriously underestimated Hood due to it's small size and relatively lower altitude. After all, that team had just summited Denali a few months prior, and that may have made them a bit over-confident. And, it's true that all the routes on the North face of Hood are indeed just day climbs, and can be done in just a few hours for the face itself, with a few more for approach and descent. Also, a lot of it can be simul-climbed.

 

Secondly, they did not allow a minimum 72 hr. weather window in which to do their climb, and because they thought it would only be a short climb, they elected to leave most of their survival gear at the Tilly Jane cabin. And finally, they were unfamiliar with the mountain, and evidently did not know how to find their way off the summit down the South side, which can be tricky in a whiteout due to the famous "Mt.Hood Triangle". And, a serious complication was added with the injury of one of the climbers just before summiting.

 

Now these are all things that would cause problems on any peak of comparable altitude anywhere. But the unique nature of the weather patterns around Hood was the clincher. Because the storm that hit the climbers that afternoon was a "Pineapple Express", with a huge shot of warm air and moisture coming all the way off the Pacific from Hawaii, and picking up a little extra oomph from the Japan current as it crossed the coast on its way inland. LOTS of water. Next, Hood sits right astride the Cascade crest, which causes the storm to rise as it passes, increasing condensation in the upper atmosphere, creating even more, and heavier snowfall. Then there's the huge"well"of supercooled air just to the southeast of Hood in Central Oregon, which just happens to get sucked right past the east side of the mountain on it's way down the Hood River Valley to the Columbia Gorge, which can happen any time a big low pressure area passes over the area, and the counter-clockwise rotation pulls that cold air into the mix. That adds more intensity, and further increases the density of snowfall and the violent strength of winds on the upper mountain. And finally, there's Mt. Adams sitting almost due North of Hood on the other side of the Columbia River and just about 100 miles away. Another 1000 feet higher than Hood, and believe it or not, with greater actual mass than Rainier, Adams acts as a very effective inside linebacker to help impede the passage of the storm front, and together these two sisters of the Columbia can make what might be an ordinary blow of a day or two anywhere else, into a Force 10 monster lasting for a week or more. And of Course Rainier can do that, and then some, all by itself.

 

So the upshot, according to Beckey, is that when the conditions are right,and all these factors come together, little old backyard playground Mt. Hood can be the equal in ferocity, danger, and savagery, of any peak on the planet, hands down, and you'd better have the utmost respect for this "dayclimb" peak. The storm that killed those three climbers in 2006 lasted for almost 9 days and subjected rescuers to winds that reached 115 mph with windchill factors on the upper mountain of over 75 or 80 below.

 

Climbers with Portland Mt. Rescue came very close to being literally blown off the mountain, hanging on to ice tools with all their strength,ice-covered ropes bellied out into the wind, having a difficult time keeping their crampon points in the ice as the wind blew their legs out from under them, let alone trying to make any forward progress. Nor was that anything unusual for a typical winter on Hood. In almost every winter you'll certainly see at least one big blow like that, and sometimes several. Just last year, a record snow year on Hood, was a great example.

 

So I can well understand that a climber as highly skilled and experienced as Ed Viesturs would have good reason to say something like that, and it might be why he, and guys like Fred Beckey, are still around after all these years. Fred himself is famously an absolute weather fanatic, in the old days before online Doppler radar, obsessively putting in so many calls to the National Weather Service in Seattle that they began to recognize his voice and they quit speaking to him, forcing him to alter his voice or have someone else make the call. Eventually he got the number for aviation forecasts and wore them out too. But in this part of the world it can be a life and death matter, no joke. And no, not really all that odd, not if you're a smart and experienced climber who knows what the mountain and the weather can do.

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Thank you for your comment Mtguide. I hope guys will be back to the base soon and unscratched.

Edited by Zoran

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Because the Himalayas are near the Equator, the air pressure of the atmosphere is greater; the atmosphere is thicker at the Equator than at the poles. Therefore, the farther North you are, the lower the overall atmospheric air pressure. That's why climbing at 17,000 on Denali can equate to being at 24,000 or more on a big Himalayan peak

 

Not to derail this serious thread from it's truly important subject, but I think you should check your facts. Most statements regarding the air pressure as a function of latitude are anecdotal. The air column at the equator may be thicker than at the arctic circle, but centripetal force at the equator is much greater at the equator, and reaches zero at the poles. Equating 24K in the Himalayas with 17K in the Alaska range seems preposterous

 

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...And of course Rainier has claimed the lives of many good climbers,including, sadly,its' own son, the great Willi Unsoeld of that very '63 Everest team,killed with several of his students from Evergreen State College by an avalanche during a winter climb...
Not to niggle/detract from the seriousness of this thread, but correction is required. Willi Unsoeld was killed along with only one of his students, Janie Diepenbrock.

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Because the Himalayas are near the Equator, the air pressure of the atmosphere is greater; the atmosphere is thicker at the Equator than at the poles. Therefore, the farther North you are, the lower the overall atmospheric air pressure. That's why climbing at 17,000 on Denali can equate to being at 24,000 or more on a big Himalayan peak

 

Not to derail this serious thread from it's truly important subject, but I think you should check your facts. Most statements regarding the air pressure as a function of latitude are anecdotal. The air column at the equator may be thicker than at the arctic circle, but centripetal force at the equator is much greater at the equator, and reaches zero at the poles. Equating 24K in the Himalayas with 17K in the Alaska range seems preposterous

 

I've generally heard ~3,000 to 4,000 feet of difference at the summit. I.e. Denali at 20320, feels like 23 or 24,000 in the Himalaya.

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It's tempting and easy to second-guess decisions of missing people from the comfort of a soft sofa in a warm living room.

 

I'm not aware of any hard-and-fast rules of mountaineering. All this chatter about minimum weather windows, months to stay off the volcanoes, etc. is just the opinion of the poster, or someone from whom they are borrowing credibility.

 

Personally, I've continued climbs on days when most people would have turned around, and I've fled on days when many people kept going. I have my own set of rules and guidelines, and also try not to judge others based on them.

 

So rather than toss out Krakauer-like judgement of these missing folks, let's perhaps send them some good energy (or prayer or whatever you prefer) and hope, collectively, that they'll beat the odds and emerge from this storm cycle unscathed.

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It's tempting and easy to second-guess decisions of missing people from the comfort of a soft sofa in a warm living room.

 

I'm not aware of any hard-and-fast rules of mountaineering. All this chatter about minimum weather windows, months to stay off the volcanoes, etc. is just the opinion of the poster, or someone from whom they are borrowing credibility.

 

Personally, I've continued climbs on days when most people would have turned around, and I've fled on days when many people kept going. I have my own set of rules and guidelines, and also try not to judge others based on them.

 

So rather than toss out Krakauer-like judgement of these missing folks, let's perhaps send them some good energy (or prayer or whatever you prefer) and hope, collectively, that they'll beat the odds and emerge from this storm cycle unscathed.

 

Agreed. Most of us have done stupid ass shit and by the grace of God survived. Let's hope that is the case for these missing climbers and hikers.

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I'm confused about the latest news: Did searchers actually make it to the Muir shelter and find it empty? (The Thursday Seattle Times story says rescuers reached Muir, but other sources say they did not.) Also, isn't there a radio that is accessible and works year-round there? I guess I pictured these folks toughing it out at Muir these past few days, but if they never made it to the safety of the hut then it doesn't sound too good.

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Many thanks for the corrections viz. Unsoeld, and the perspective on comparative altitude effects depending on latitude.

 

No judgement of anyone currently trapped on Rainier, or of other climbers in similar situations in the past, is intended. However, what little I've been able to gather from news reports is that both teams were somewhat lacking in experience, and that's not a good thing in an otherwise unsupported attempt on Rainier.

The principle of a minimum 72 hr. weather window was something I first heard of from Fred Beckey himself back in 1967, and my own personal experience since then has simply borne that out. Of course there are always variations depending on the length of the climb and the conditions, and I tried to allow for that in my comments. There are still a lot of climbers who head out without fully realizing just what it might entail to get back down in terms of time and effort.If you've never been down the other side of a peak before, having a little extra time with good weather might make a huge difference.

The figures on the effects of altitude I got from a presentation by Dr. Peter Hackett, a well-known research scientist and climber who specializes in the study of hypothermia, high alt.pulmonary edema,and hi-alt. cerebral edema,and cold weather injuries, at a 3-day conference on Climbing on Denali held at Portland State U. in March of 1996. The figures are from notes I took.

 

Finally, I have no argument whatsoever with anyone having their very own set of principles, guidelines, and rules to go by, provided they have the training and experience, and know what they're doing. After all, you are the one who's on the mountain doing the climb, and you're who has to assess things by the hour or the moment as you go. You're the only one who knows your level of conditioning, how strong you feel that particular day, etc. I'd begin to question the intelligence and ability of any climber who failed to develop such a personal set of standards as they gathered time and miles above timberline. That's only common sense. But there are plenty of climbers of lesser skill,experience, conditioning and training who don't have a very good idea of what they're doing. For those, some guidelines and rules based on the long and hard-earned experience of others, are very appropriate, and can save everyone a lot of trouble.

 

And, since we do have all the advances in weather information, avalanche forecasting. etc., it's not only common sense to use it, but also consideration for the trouble and risk you can subject rescuers to, and the emotional pain inflicted on friends and family, in case you don't and then get caught unaware.

 

It's very natural for young climbers in particular to find freedom and escape from the confines of the workaday world and the sometimes stifling strictures of our so-called "civilized" society. That's indeed part of what climbing is all about, and in his wonderful trip report on the first ascent of the West Ridge of Mt Huntington in the 1965 American Alpine Journal,the great French alpinist Lionel Terray expressed it with eloquence and power:

 

"But soon we have to start the descent. Suddenly I feel sad and despondent. I am well aware that a mountaineering victory is only a scratch in space, and for me, after the Himalaya and the Andes, Huntington is just another peak. But in spite of this, how sad I feel leaving that crest! On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal,warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men.It is hard to return to servitude."

 

Cascade Climber mentions going ahead on days when others have turned back, and turning back on days others went ahead. That's the attitude of a mature and accomplished climber and person, and that's really freedom. He'll probably be around a long time, and I certainly hope so.But it's also an attitude based on long experience, and I'll bet he wouldn't have said that early in his career.

 

The main thing is to utilize every advantage you can, within reason, especially in the winter, because the mountain and the weather are way more powerful, a very worthy challenge for even the best of alpinists. You have to plan for the whole climb, up and back down, and make allowance for the unexpected;in spite of how hard it can be to leave that summit, we always have to return to the world of cities and men, if we want to continue climbing. In 1987 I lost a very dear friend, a superlative climber,on Kanchenjunga because he didn't allow for the time and energy necessary for the descent. It's in his memory, and in memory of over a dozen other dear and treasured friends who died climbing, that I continue to write, and hope that my words might be useful to others on their way up. I'm not exactly speaking from a comfortable armchair here.It's not for nothing that Joe Simpson titled one of his books "This Game of Ghosts". And I hope and pray fervently for the safe return of the people on Rainier.

 

 

 

 

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Thanks for the Terray quote! I will have to remember that one, especially those last couple sentences.

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Yes, the team got to Muir, and didn't find any sign of either party. The radio at the public hut was functional.

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I've never been a fan of Recco reflectors for recovering anyone alive from an avalanche since the detectors are not there when you need them. However, in a case like this, if someone is buried in a snow cave under several feet of snow, and happens to have a Recco reflector on them somewhere, is there a chance a detector in a helicopter could spot them? Maybe a weather window coming Monday for getting a helicopter in the air.

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Just got the page a half hour ago to head up tomorrow. Dammit, tomorrow is the first chargeable time I've had since before Christmas. And here I was sitting on my ass all last week and this past weekend...

:anger:

 

Here's hoping that they're still holed up somewhere and staying hydrated...

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Man,I'm worried. Where the heck are these guys?

 

My guess would be on the Nisqually Glacier.

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What a bummer - that place can be nasty in the winter, especially with high winds and a blizzard. Very good input from Mtguide and DPS - if the climbers had the experience to hunker down early on in the storm in a snow cave, maybe they are ok. It's a real risk management issue, when to go and when not to go - Ed and Fred know it ain't going anywhere, sometimes best to come back another day.

God bless and all those searching , be careful - you are all very hardcore folks.

I think on monday the weather may ease up for some chopper runs - good luck!

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My guess would be on the Nisqually Glacier.
That would be my first guess, too. The fall line right out of Muir takes you south, then drops off to the west naturally, when you should be heading SSE. Lotsa folks have ended up over on the Nisqually after descending out of Muir in a storm/white-out...

Get Your Bearings

 

However, with the very strongs winds up there we've been hearing about, if they were descending during the snowstorms/white-outs, it's entirely possible that they could have been blown easterly during their descent and are somewhere on the Paradise Glacier...

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Just got the page a half hour ago to head up tomorrow. Dammit, tomorrow is the first chargeable time I've had since before Christmas. And here I was sitting on my ass all last week and this past weekend...

:anger:

 

Here's hoping that they're still holed up somewhere and staying hydrated...

 

Be careful up there. :brew:

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It's tempting and easy to second-guess decisions of missing people from the comfort of a soft sofa in a warm living room.

 

I'm not aware of any hard-and-fast rules of mountaineering. All this chatter about minimum weather windows, months to stay off the volcanoes, etc. is just the opinion of the poster, or someone from whom they are borrowing credibility.

 

Personally, I've continued climbs on days when most people would have turned around, and I've fled on days when many people kept going. I have my own set of rules and guidelines, and also try not to judge others based on them.

 

So rather than toss out Krakauer-like judgement of these missing folks, let's perhaps send them some good energy (or prayer or whatever you prefer) and hope, collectively, that they'll beat the odds and emerge from this storm cycle unscathed.

 

Agreed. Most of us have done stupid ass shit and by the grace of God survived. Let's hope that is the case for these missing climbers and hikers.

 

Very true,

Hope this turns out to be an epic and not a tragedy. Godspeed alpinists

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