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AT84

Mt Stuart accident

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A slide for life down the Northeast Face?! They're fortunate they're still alive. In hard snow conditions and enough momentum they could have easily continued over the top of the Ice Cliff Glacier.

 

Hope they have a speedy and full recovery.

 

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Sounds like the beacon activation may have saved one or both of their lives. Hope they both have a speedy and full recovery.

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A slide for life down the Northeast Face?! They're fortunate they're still alive. In hard snow conditions and enough momentum they could have easily continued over the top of the Ice Cliff Glacier.

 

My guess is that they were climbing the Sherpa Glacier Couloir. An 800+ foot slide anywhere else on the NE side of Stuart would probably be fatal.

 

Hope they recover soon.

 

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The GPS info from the beacon and the phone put them at the base of the couloir at the top of the ice cliff glacier. If anybody knows either of the climbers I would be interested to hear what kind of beacon they had and how close their location was to what was reported.

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I was one of the two climbers involved in this accident. I feel compelled to write about my experience because I've found that reading about other's accidents is invaluable to the posterity of climber's safety and because I wanted to get a little cathartic and go beyond what the soundbite media blurbs have presented.

And, not to be a sensationalist a la mass media, it is a miracle we are still alive, and both of us alive enough to be cleared for discharge from the hospital today. My friend and I were climbing the Ice Cliff Glacier route on Mt Stuart. We are both experienced climbers, but most of our technical climbing has been on alpine rock as opposed to steeper ice routes, and this route, in my mind, was sort of the next level in that venue for us. We starting climbing from our camp at around 1:00 in the morning. All of the steeper ice steps went smoothly and we were near the top of the route at a little after daybreak. By around 8:00 AM I was trying to climb over the cornice that guards the final salvation from the north side. We knew this part of the climb might pose a problem from reading through other people's trip reports, but from our belay about 40' below the cornice it looked manageable. We had a short discussion before I climbed the last 40' up to it that I would set up a belay and bring my friend up before we tackled the cornice or I would just lead through it if it looked easy enough. I opted for he latter because I was stupid, stubborn, and impatient to get on the sunny side of the ridge. I was up off the deck, mantling with one hand on a step of ice and hacking away at the overhang unable to get any purchase on the mushy southside. The step of weak ice I was mantling on collapsed and I slid down from the top of the couloir, ripping my picket. This was the first time I have ever fallen and pulled the protection with me and before I knew I was sliding into my partner at an incredible speed. The picket anchor he was on failed (fairly soft snow in the majority of the couloir) as well as his desperate attempts to back it up with a self arrest. Faster and faster we were thrown down the couloir. I remember falling head first down the majority of it, powerless to do anything but endure the violent turbulence as I got pulled into the vacuum of my death and the drop off the ice cliff proper. In those moments I went through the experience that I am sure all climbers dread more than anything, but worse I was also inflicting this on such a remarkable and loved person as my climbing partner. I can't quite remember what happened but just as the speed seemed to apex the next thing I knew I had come to a stop in the snow. We had someone come to a stop on a flatter slope above and to the climber's left of the ice cliff glacier. Screaming gibberish and pumped full of adrenaline I assessed the situation after we decelerated to the zero. My friend had also come to a stop within a few feet of me, half-conscious and moaning, climbing helmet gone, his face bloodied up, some of it staining the snow, and one eye swollen shut. I seemed to be okay but when I tried to move I realized my leg was pretty badly broken. I quickly took off my backpack, and to my despair, opened it to find everything gone (I had a shovel in there that was sticking out of the pullstring cinched-top that must have caught on something, ripped it open and sent everything off into the ultimate ice cliff garage sale). Self rescue wasn't a remote possibility given our condition and position on the mountain and what seemed like our only chance of survival, my personal locator beacon, was somewhere unknown and totally out of reach. We had survived the fall but the chances of surviving the exposure with our injuries before anyone had an idea of where we were seemed worse than the chances of successfully navigating an asteroid field. But this was the second miracle: among the few items of gear debris within eyeshot of us was my blue emergency first aid kit about 50' down the slope from us, not far above another drop-off which had my PLB in it. At this point my partner was able to get up and stagger around a bit but was dazed and confused and didn't know where we were. "We're on the Ice Cliff Glacier" I said. Desperate to make sure the small blue package down the hill was indeed my first aid kit, I asked him to try to retrieve it, saying it was necessary for our survival. Utter despair turned into beautiful hope when he was able to return with the PLB and we fired it off without hesitation.

Between the hours that the accident happened and the helicopter rescued us my partner had gained full awarness and was able to walk around and retrieve his backpack which had a spare sleeping bag, space blanket etc. I couldn't move at all without feeling excuriacting pain, but eventually forced myself off the snow and onto my pack and got waddled into the sleeping bag and space blanket. A few hours after the we sent the emergency signal, my friend was able to get through to 911 (another miracle given the topragraphy, but has Verizon so, you know) and we were able to get confirmation that a SAR team was being assembled and we could confirm our location and situation. But of course I had my internal doubts: would they be able to find us? would they be able to get the helo close enough? Fortunately it was a clear blue day with almost no wind. At around 1:30 we heard the unmistakable sound of the rescue helicopter echoing off the canyon walls. My heart broke a few times as it made a few distant passes too far to the north to see us, but eventually they spotted us and flew into the narrow canyon. Survival. They deployed a rescuer on a cable down to us as the helicopter hovered above. He harnessed my friend first they were beemed up. Survival. He come back down to me, said they couldn't get a litter down for my broken leg becaue the nature of the snow slope and would have to just pull me up. He put the body harness on me and up we went, me hollering at the top of the my lungs as I was pulled into the vacuum of life.

 

King County Sheriff Dept was impeccable in the risky rescue operation so I owe my life to them as well as my friend who provided the means to contact them.

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Wow, thanks for the gripping detail. I'm glad you guys are in relatively good shape, that was a long fall.

 

I hope you don't mind a couple questions to better learn from this accident....

 

1. How were the pickets set?

2. What was the general density of the snow in which they were placed?

 

Rest up!

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good to see i'm not the only one to have the Hammer of Fate swing and miss at me on the ice cliff! you've earned a good old fashioned drunk for yourself :)

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and this route, in my mind, was sort of the next level in that venue for us.

 

My climbing partner and I had the exact same thought last year prior to attempting Ice Cliff Glacier and came very close to a similar situation. We ended up having to do some heinous mixed climbing on the rock between the two cornice gullies to avoid huge chunks falling off that cornice when the weather turned warmer than we expected (we should have known better). Reading your report brings back haunting memories of my own near disaster on that route. I think the hazards of that route are often minimized by reports and guidebooks. That cornice can vary from an easy walk up to death trap depending on conditions.

 

Thank you for sharing your story and glad to hear you are ok

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Thanks for sharing your story. Perhaps never quite on par with your miraculous moments, but I resonate with a mountain miracle making all the difference for a trip.

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and this route, in my mind, was sort of the next level in that venue for us.

 

My climbing partner and I had the exact same thought last year prior to attempting Ice Cliff Glacier and came very close to a similar situation. We ended up having to do some heinous mixed climbing on the rock between the two cornice gullies to avoid huge chunks falling off that cornice when the weather turned warmer than we expected (we should have known better). Reading your report brings back haunting memories of my own near disaster on that route. I think the hazards of that route are often minimized by reports and guidebooks. That cornice can vary from an easy walk up to death trap depending on conditions.

 

Thank you for sharing your story and glad to hear you are ok

 

I don't think a glacier named the Ice Cliff, which claimed Mark Weigelt and involved almost the entire Washington climbing community in the accident and rescue has unknown or minimized risks.

 

If people are not aware of the dangers, that is certainly not the fault of the web or Fred.

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=860&dat=19721018&id=k4BUAAAAIBAJ&sjid=VI8DAAAAIBAJ&pg=5038,866141

 

http://publications.americanalpineclub.org/articles/13197302701/Washington-Stuart-Range-Mt-Stuart'>http://publications.americanalpineclub.org/articles/13197302701/Washington-Stuart-Range-Mt-Stuart

 

http://publications.americanalpineclub.org/articles/13197302701/Washington-Stuart-Range-Mt-Stuart

Edited by num1mc

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Some rules of thumb for picket placement:

 

Can you make a throwable snowball?

Yes - compact the snow in front of the anchor.

No - Deadman the anchor as deeply as possible, do not compact the snow.

 

Mid clipped pickets are 2 to 3x stronger than top clipped. Deadmanned pickets buried at mid clip depth are similar in strength to midclipped.

 

In firmer snow, vertical placement is best. In weaker snow, lean the picket back slightly.

 

Dig a pit to check snow hardness. If you can insert your gloved finger gently into the snowpack anywhere along the wall of the pit, do not top clip it.

 

6 kN is the max expected strength of deadmanned or mid clipped picket

2 KN is the max expected strength for a top clipped picket.

 

 

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Glad you're still with us. When I remember to bring my PLB I like to keep it on me in a pocket or strapped to my beacon. A PLB in the pack is great for calling a rescue for other people. PLB on my person gets me rescued. Thanks for sharing details. There was PNW PLB rescue story last summer mt Jefferson July 20, 2014.

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Can you make a throwable snowball?

No - Deadman the anchor as deeply as possible, do not compact the snow.

Hmmm... I'd be interested to hear some comments on this. What is your reasoning for not attempting to compact the snow?

When the snow is soft, I've always done my best to compact the snow in a large area in front of where I want to bury a deadman, then bury it and if conditions will allow I'll wait five or ten minutes to give the compacted snow a chance to set up.

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If the snow is too mechanically weak (too cold and light, typically) to set up when compacted (make a snowball you can throw), your compacting it destroys what bonding it has already and weakens the stress cone that holds the picket in.

 

This, as well as the finger test, is a standard that's been around since the 1950s.

 

There are bunch of sites/reports on setting snow anchors - they all say pretty much the same thing.

 

In that kind of snow you can deadman the picket deep with a really long sling or just forget about the anchor altogether and save the time.

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For the vast majority of the time pickets are worthless, unless you spend a lot of time compacting snow and burying the picket (there is data out there which is worth reading http://arc.lib.montana.edu/snow-science/objects/ISSW_O-061.pdf).

 

I don't think their is any myth in the community about the dangers of that route. This is not the first nor the last time that someone has got seriously hurt in there. As the first ground rescuer who would have been on the scene (if they needed to be moved for the heli to be able to get to) I was for one not excited to be climbing part of the route in order to move them, as I waited in a t-shirt). Luckily they were able to get out quickly and it shows how lucky they are that we had heli support. Glad that the two climbers brought the right gear and had a PLB.

 

Hopefully they can organize a rescue crew for the rest of their leftover camping gear...I will donate beer to the effort but my days of hiking the road for fun are over...Sorry

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Big thanks for the awesome accident report. You are so lucky the PLB was within sight, bet that was when you knew you had a chance of survival.

 

Good info, now going to carry the PLB in a more secure location than the top of the pack.

 

That cornice is a stinger in the tail. The one time I climbed this route it was about 30' tall and overhanging, I went on rock to the right that was very sketch. If I ever do it again it would be by tunneling through the base.

 

I wonder if a body belay in a big pit would work, sort of like the lowering belays on Touching the Void. But then the lead protection would pull and you'd have a factor 1 on the belay. Whatever you do you probably have to spend at least an hour to get something that only might hold a fall. Probably should just be climbed in a "leader must not fall" fashion.

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Thank you for sharing your event with us and providing us information.

 

I am happy for you!

 

Keep on climbing.

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For the vast majority of the time pickets are worthless, unless you spend a lot of time compacting snow and burying the picket (there is data out there which is worth reading http://arc.lib.montana.edu/snow-science/objects/ISSW_O-061.pdf).

 

nice posting Vernman. useful information... altho "back in the day" when I was climbing routes of this sort I fully subscribed to the "pickets are worthless" school.

 

Edgewood, good on you for telling the tale in the first person, which couldn't have been easy. you and your partner are lucky dudes. recover well!

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To answer a few questions:

 

The personal locator beacon was an ACR ResQLink:

http://www.rei.com/product/815753/acr-electronics-resqlink-406-gps-personal-locator-beacon

 

The pickets were hammered in the snow vertically (and vertically plumb) as deep as possible and clipped using the top hole with a draw and runner. In retrospect we both agreed that our placement method was pretty poor. When we have used pickets before they were placed deadman style but in this situation I think we got more into the place-and-go mentality of other types of climbing instead of making more secure and time intensive placements. The snow conditions in the couloir were pretty variable but they were generally pretty soft.

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Thanks for sharing. Lots of great information we can all learn from! I wish you all the best in your recovery.

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