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jakedouglas

[TR] Colchuck Peak - North Buttress Couloir, unplanned bivy 3/7/2015

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2500 calories seems pretty good start, but day-of probably needed more if all you had at the end of the day climbing was a snickers bar split between you two. Or maybe water? Hard to say without having been there, but if you are under-hydrated your body can't burn the calories you ingest anyway. I've totally been there and done the same thing, it's just my first thought. Also the cold weather/cold camping makes your body burn much more, so going off an urban based caloric regimen often underestimates the additional cold in the hills. Sounds like you know what's up there at any rate.

 

I personally had been camping since Wednesday night and my food was running low but I had not run out. I left at our tent one mountain house meal for dinner when we returned and some oatmeal for breakfast. I took everything else I had with me. In hindsight I could have just taken the remainder of my food since it was not much more weight. I had at least 2000 calories for the climb but I don't remember specifics.

 

As Jake mentioned a strong party of two solo'ed all but one pitch of the route in 10 hours round trip. Most of their steps were filled in with spindrift so they were useful occasionally but most of what we did was trail breaking in deep snow.

 

It always felt like we were almost there. We topped out on the couloir and figured it was not more to go. Every pitch we climbed we also figured we were almost there. This constant teasing of the summit block ahead kept us pressing on. I don't think either of us considered turning around at all until it was too late.

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An unplanned bivy is a most apropos topic now that winter is winding down. We were up on the Gerber-Sink route on Dragontail the same night as you. In fact, the night before, I met the partner at Colchuck Lake you were going to climb with from Portland.

In any event, my partner and I had completed nearly all of the lower portion of the route (nearly 1/2 of the entire route) when he became extremely ill unable to proceed any further. We then descended with three v-thread rappels and two full length (2 60m 1/2 ropes) raps from trees before darkness prevented us from completing two more rappels down the lower buttress at the toe of Dragontail back to the glacier.

So we tied in on a steep snow ledge and sat on our packs (which had closed cell pads)for the night. Hand warmers, dry gloves, extra socks, puffy, extra balaclava, food, water and stove all made for a tolerable bivy. We were surprised the next morning, when we rapped to the glacier, to be face to face with a hovering helicopter. I figured my wife called for a rescue (given the warm temps in Cashmere--she thought the worst had happened--avalanche)since I was now overdue, but the word I got when I came down was the sheriff was looking for a "lost hiker"--on Colchuck. Based on the recent rescue off of Ice Cliff Glacier, she insists that I invest in a Spot or PLD pronto.

Good comments from everyone about preparedness to bivy without adding significant weight.

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The walk down to Colchuck Col and back to your tent would have been tiring, but not very dangerous even at night (...* keep your crampons on!!).

Duh, only an idiot would try to walk down Colchuck in the winter without crampons. :crazy:

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With all deference to preference of 'canceling' an emergency signal, I think frankly once you've hit the button, cancelling it is not going to make things 'clear' for those who may have received the initial emergency request--they'll still come out--it's like dialing 911 but then hanging up.

 

 

I would think if someone cancelled an emergency signal on a spot/inreach and then subsequently sent out an all okay message then it would be much more clear that no rescue is required, wouldn't others agree?

 

To me this seems to be another good reason for why these types of devices are superior over emergency only designated PLB/EPIRBS

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I've joked with partners before when things have sucked "Maybe we could just stay here till they call a rescue out for us" but to have the rescue call temptation just a button push away obviously makes the temptation much worse - good to know, thanks.

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Most importantly, I'm glad you came out OK. After that, I'm impressed that you're willing to share your story. Your humility and willingness to learn from experience will serve you well going forward. :tup:

 

The biggest problem with SPOT/PLB is the lack of 2-way communication. Voice or even texting capabilities could be really valuable before, during, and after an accident.

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The biggest problem with SPOT/PLB is the lack of 2-way communication. Voice or even texting capabilities could be really valuable before, during, and after an accident.

 

Delorme InReach

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I'm convinced many climbers drastically underestimate when figuring caloric and hydration needs. 2000-2500 calories for a day of alpine climbing sounds like a starvation diet to me. I usually try for about twice that. On two Denali trips back in the eighties, we budgeted 10,000 calories per person per day. To stay optimally hydrated, I need to consume AT LEAST a gallon per day in addition to what might be consumed in food. And I've gone long days when TWO gallons seemed barely enough. So for winter climbs, the ONE item I am NEVER without is a stove with a generous amount of fuel. I hope that the purr of the stove helped mask the noise of my belching and dry-heaving on that bivvy with Kyle on Dragontail...

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We left camp with 2L each and brewed another 1-2L at the bottom of the couloir while we racked up to replace what we had drunk on the approach, and chugged more on the spot. We also drank electrolyte mix in the water all day.

 

I don't believe that we were particularly naive for leaving camp with a belly full of breakfast, 2L and 2,000-2,500 calories each, and a 4oz fuel canister for a climb largely on a shaded northern aspect that was supposed to conclude by mid-afternoon. On the contrary, we've been chuckled at numerous times for carrying lots of food and a stove on day trips in the past.

 

Nutrition and hydration are very important and I agree that many/most people skimp to the point of being a detriment, but I promise that we could have been getting extra-large pizzas and fresh squeezed orange juice delivered and we still would have botched the climb.

 

While I'll carry more food and fuel from now on in addition to other contingency items, I'm probably not going to carry 5,000 calories for a one day climb. Some of the eating and drinking is supposed to take place once you're back at the tent. Developing the judgement and awareness to pick appropriate objectives and bail when they turn out to be a mistake is the larger, more holistic issue.

 

Glad you made it out and I hope you're feeling better.

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Quick thoughts:

 

1. Turn around times in winter can be a bitch when you don't get the objective, but helpful in avoiding man bivy.

 

2. Weight on your back. Looks like the NBC is a bit lean, but 10 cams and 3 pickets for a snow climb is...extra weight.

 

3. Fitness/nutrition. Speed is safety for sure.

 

I think you guys did well, but with room for improvement. No shame in posting this TR in that is had lead to a thoughtful, and fairly civil (rare for cc.com), discussion.

 

One question, you guys drank 3L by the time you got to the base of the couloir? Or are you saying you left camp with 2L and brewed up another liter or two at the base? Either way, that seems like a lot of hydration for like 500 vf.

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I was in the group that you met at the col when you descended in the morning, with the helicopter buzzing overhead. Thanks for making this post, which fills in the story. I'm also interested to hear more about the PLB situation as I am planning to purchase one.

 

We had started up the NBC but bailed at the constriction, not liking the conditions, at least for our fairly inexperienced group. The previous day we spoke to some climbers that had been turned back from Northeast Coulior after wallowing in hip-deep snow so we went in forewarned. It's interesting that the conditions on Colchuck were so different from Dragontail, where many teams made it up the Triple Couloirs.

 

When we trudged out we also spoke to the gentleman who took ill and bivied on the face of Dragontail. It was a good weekend for epics.

 

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I don't know you guys or your experience level so feel free to ignore this post.

 

Sometimes things just compound, you were light on calories, sounds like you climbed slow, messed with protection and ropes too much, had route finding issues, didn't have good gear for a bivy. These things along with shorter day light combined to provide an epic. Any one of those things by itself doesn't cause the epic.

 

Nobody got hurt which is great, good lessons and experience were gained. Maybe dial it back a bit and get more comfortable on easier terrain. I've had a few partners that were strong technical climbers but totally uncomfortable unroped on exposed but easy terrain. Knowing when you need to rope up is an important progression for everyone and everyone has a different tolerance.

 

I've found it's also helpful to be thinking about potential bailout difficulties as you're climbing and you eventually will reach a point where its easier to bail upward and forget about the possibility of descending down the route. This is also good to discus with your partner before the climb starts as well.

 

As someone who has pulled the plug on a few climbs, it's been helpful for me to listen to that little voice in the back of my head, it's right more than it's wrong. It's perfectly fine to back off of climbs you know you're capable of, just have to develop more trust in your intuition than in your ego. (i.e.- we should be able to climb this no problem so let's keep going despite moving slow)

 

You guys (and I guess the guys who did it in 10 hours) were pretty slow. It's been 10 years or so but myself and 3 other guys climbed the NBC car to car in an easy day. We may have roped up at the top of the couloir. I know some freak who used to do it as a conditioning climb in 5 hours, car to car.

 

Hope that helps and thanks for sharing the story, it's a good one.

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Quick thoughts:

 

1. Turn around times in winter can be a bitch when you don't get the objective, but helpful in avoiding man bivy.

 

2. Weight on your back. Looks like the NBC is a bit lean, but 10 cams and 3 pickets for a snow climb is...extra weight.

 

3. Fitness/nutrition. Speed is safety for sure.

 

I think you guys did well, but with room for improvement. No shame in posting this TR in that is had lead to a thoughtful, and fairly civil (rare for cc.com), discussion.

 

One question, you guys drank 3L by the time you got to the base of the couloir? Or are you saying you left camp with 2L and brewed up another liter or two at the base? Either way, that seems like a lot of hydration for like 500 vf.

 

We carried 1 picket. The rock gear is heavy but it substantially sped our progress on the face, providing plenty of options for placements. That we wanted so many placements is the larger issue...

 

We left camp with 2L each and brewed another liter or two at the base. We had probably only drunk a few sips on the way up to that point but figured we should chug a bunch to stay ahead of it since it was the last convenient stopping point for a while. The place we did this at the bottom of the NBC appears to be 1k feet above the lake. It had been 2-3 hours since breakfast where we'd had coffee (dehydrating) so I don't think this is unreasonable. Sometimes I drink a liter of water by lunch time sitting at my desk.

 

People are fixating on the food and water thing more than it deserves IMO. We ended up running out but it's because we misjudged the route, not misjudged the amount of food and water based on what we thought the route would be. The fact is that we're wimps about climbing without protection (particularly myself) and that's probably where 75% of the time went. This isn't the first time we've done long days of exertion and when we were actually moving our pace was fine. We both train a good amount and we've both climbed with experienced partners, who as far as I know never found our pace to be inadequate as long as we were roped and they were doing the leading.

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Maybe dial it back a bit and get more comfortable on easier terrain.

 

Yup.

 

I think the biggest negative factor was the soft deep snow. That stuff can really suck your energy in a hurry. For me the route would have been out of condition. Some styrofoam neve and we wouldn't be discussing this.

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My thoughts: you could have eaten 10,000 calories and drunk 2 gallons of water - soft snow and lots of pro make you go slow. I've also learned the hard way.

 

There's a reason why a lot of speed ascents are done without ropes/gear (not that they all are).

 

 

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People are fixating on the food and water thing more than it deserves IMO.

 

Sorry about that. It just tends to be one of the main factors probably for all of us; underestimating energy requirements and feeding the furnace. Maybe not in your guys case.

 

I was thinking about this in a different metric that I often use to judge my own likelihood of "bailure" last night: elevation per hour pace. If you consider that Colchuck Lake is at what 5500/6000 ft? and the summit of Colchuck is basically 8700 (edit), you have your summit day of around 2700 vert, right? The couloir is prob 1300 of that, and the face is probably another 1300. One great gauge of progress in the mountains is to start calculating, every hour, what your per-hour elevation gain is, and set some limits. Just for example, for the dog routes on Rainier, my metric is at least 1000 an hour for a moderate pace on summit day. Usually it starts out much faster, say 1500 or even 2000 ft an hour. Often times for me by the time I hit 12,500 I slow, and by 13,500 I am probably doing 500 ft an hour, due to elevation. You can do the same thing for technical climbs. If you are climbing less than an hour, you should consider bailing rather than hoping condish will get better and you'll get faster. (That almost never happens). Consider a party now, taking 10 hours up this route as you did: 300 feet an hour? Or, much better example to illustrate the point, the last time I slogged up Rainier I met a party that had been going UP from Camp Shurman for 14 hours. WTF? That's just up, not round trip. We met them on the summit, after climbing for about 5 hours. True its a bit of vertical from Shurman, but that's about 400 ft an hour. That is just too slow, unless one has amazing weather. One should do the running math on every climb, and keep track. It can trigger the warning bells maybe sooner than the actual geographic features can.

 

I also wanted to add that on this route, I think downclimbing the couloir would be a long piece of work, and it's likely that it would have taken just as long to go up. Only difference in the final outcome is the bivy.

 

[edit: Colchuck is 8700]

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Lake to summit is 3100 feet.

 

I track gain per hour or some derivation thereof on every trip I do, climbing, skiing, etc. In this context, assuming that we would climb the face at the same rate we climbed the couloir was a big mistake. Here are some fairly accurate breakdowns from the times as best as I could reconstruct them from GPS records and photo timestamps:

 

  • Toilet to bottom of NBC: 1000 feet / 1.4 hours = 714 feet/hr
  • 45 minutes to put on crampons, harness, brew, snack, rack up
  • Bottom of NBC to top of NBC: 1400 feet / 5.75 hours = 243 feet/hr
  • Top of NBC to summit block: 700 feet / 5.5 hours = 127 feet/hr

 

Climbing the face at the same gain per hour as we climbed the couloir would have put us at the summit block around 5:00pm instead of 7:30pm, but you can see that it was nearly twice as slow. We started pitching it out, and while the couloir goes mostly straight up, we probably did almost 3 ropelengths of traversing on the face. We failed to account for this in our research and discussion and it made a big difference. Obviously pitching it out was the biggest slowdown.

 

These numbers are still a big joke and nowhere near acceptable but maybe you can see how we thought we had a solid chance of making it when we decided to go for it at the top of the couloir instead of bailing.

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I'm convinced many climbers drastically underestimate when figuring caloric and hydration needs. 2000-2500 calories for a day of alpine climbing sounds like a starvation diet to me. I usually try for about twice that. On two Denali trips back in the eighties, we budgeted 10,000 calories per person per day. To stay optimally hydrated, I need to consume AT LEAST a gallon per day in addition to what might be consumed in food. And I've gone long days when TWO gallons seemed barely enough. So for winter climbs, the ONE item I am NEVER without is a stove with a generous amount of fuel. I hope that the purr of the stove helped mask the noise of my belching and dry-heaving on that bivvy with Kyle on Dragontail...

 

We brought 2000+ cals on the climb but we ate an adequite breakfast before leaving camp. I think the cals was obviously too few in hindsight but we figured once we got over the summit we could walk down the walk off descent route on zero cals easily. We were expecting to have breakfast (500+ cals) along with food on route (2,000+ cals) and then eat a dinner (1200+ cals) for a total daily expenditure of close to 4,000 cals. This feels about correct, however the mistake still stands that we left our freeze friend dinners in the tent when that would have added a very small amount of weight. This is a mistake I won't make again. Also I will always bring 8oz of fuel in winter for a party of two.

Edited by GerritD

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The biggest problem with SPOT/PLB is the lack of 2-way communication. Voice or even texting capabilities could be really valuable before, during, and after an accident.

 

Delorme InReach

 

I spoke with the Sargent for the Sherrif's department that coordinated the SAR. He said in his experience the ResQLink that we used has not had trouble. I did ask him about a Delorme Inreach and he said those have had very good success.

 

I already have purchased a Delorme Inreach after this unplanned bivy and my plan is to carry that from now on.

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I think the fact that you have the data is great. Seriously. At least you now know how slow you *might* go on future climbs of similar length and difficulty (Ice Cliff Glacier comes to mind, NEBC on Colchuck, Triple Couloirs on DTail, all of them are similar or longer in length, and usually just a bit harder technically), not that you really want to be slow with 3000 ft of vert. I think 5.75 hours to the top of the couloir is the tell, and maybe future readers will read this trip report and understand much better with real data from you guys and your experience that if they are ballpark hitting those kinds of times, they should consider bailing from the top of the couloir rather than continuing on.

 

45 minutes transition seems like a lot of allowance, honestly. One fun activity is to start just timing yourself for this kind of stuff, in some safe environment. I would have probably allowed 10 minutes for crampons on, harness on, self-belay gear organized, rackup, whatever. If it were colder or you were threatened by hazard you wouldn't have lingered as long I think.

 

I recently made my mentees build trad anchors under the duress of a stopwatch. We started with 7 min on the clock, and all pieces usable. We gradually made it harder throughout the day, getting down to 4-minute times using only nuts and hexes. It is training like this that pays in the mountains. The next weekend they went out and did a route they didn't know, onsight. It took one of the guys 30 min to build an anchor, even after all that practice, but you can imagine he at least had a recent day of just anchor building under his belt to draw from.

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Can't argue with any of that.

 

I'm pretty burnt out on talking about this so I'm going to let it end here for now.

 

I've contacted the beacon manufacturer and I'll be sure to report whatever I hear back.

 

Thanks for the discussion everyone.

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I've joked with partners before when things have sucked "Maybe we could just stay here till they call a rescue out for us" but to have the rescue call temptation just a button push away obviously makes the temptation much worse - good to know, thanks.

 

Your a hundred percent correct on this Dru, i know several people/stories where the climbers have contemplated hitting the spot rescue button, during an epic, in the same manner an addict looks at dope sitting right in front of them. Lol.

 

Nevertheless I don't think the "temptation" to hit the button is a worthy enough reason in and of itself not to carry this simple type of insurance if the situation really does get serious. In my opinion I would think it would still be better to rescue more people, who may not all necessarily need rescue, then not be able to rescue the few who really do need the help...

 

Also another issue that people in need of help don't always consider, rescue can take a very long time in the mountains to get coordinated and executed. It can easily take 24-48hrs, or more if weather comes in, to reach climbers located in complex/steep mountain terrain. This is another factor to to think about if your stuck in a really bad spot...In this case you better be able to hold out for that length of time or keep moving in some manner toward self-rescue...Obviously if someone is busted up real bad (broken bones, hemorrhage, spinal/head injury, etc.) you have to call for rescue immediately. But at least with a PLB you have the option to do so, but people still don't always live long enough to get rescued depending on the severity of the injury...

 

Food for thought

 

 

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