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jakedouglas

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

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Trip: Colchuck Peak - North Buttress Couloir, unplanned bivy

 

Date: 3/7/2015

 

Trip Report:

On Friday afternoon I left the gate at 12:30pm to meet GerritD at the lake to try the NBC the following morning. I hit the lake at 3:30pm and found Gerrit resting in his tent, having just returned from a day of climbing by himself around the lower north buttress area. We ate dinner and waited up for another CCer who was supposed to meet us. Around 9pm he still hadn't showed so we headed to bed.

 

We woke at 4am and had a fairly slow start that included chipping ice off of the toilet until the lid would open. Approach conditions were slow, with frustrating post holing through deep soft snow. We took a break to put on our gear and were climbing up the couloir at around 8am.

 

IMG_17634.jpg

Getting ready at the bottom of the couloir. The first short ice step is visible at the choke.

 

We climbed the first ~250 feet unroped including a short ice step. We arrived at 2 more steps, the top of which looked steeper, so we pulled out the rope and I led a short belayed pitch. I was glad to have the rope on the steeper top step as it mostly crusty snow that did not feel very secure. Things looked easier from here and Gerrit led off with the agreement that we would simulclimb after he got a piece or two in.

 

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Gerrit following the steps

 

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Easier terrain above

 

Unfortunately we got too attached to mental comfort of the rope and protection even though the climbing was easy and mostly secure. We kept building anchors to rerack and avoid getting low on gear, causing our simul blocks to come up short, maybe 2 ropelengths at a time. The snow was deep, slowing us down even more. We had counted on following the boot pack of a party from the previous day for increased efficiency, but it had long since filled in with spindrift and was no better than breaking our own trail.

 

We finally hit the top of the couloir at 2pm. We had discussed the feasibility of bailing and agreed that it would be very time consuming by this point with only one 60m rope and myself having less than ideal confidence to downclimb at a decent pace. We had 700 vertical feet to go which seemed very reasonable with 4-5 hours of daylight left, and we were still feeling fine, so we rounded the corner out onto the NW face.

 

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Looking back down from the top of the NBC.

 

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Rounding the corner onto the face

 

The face turned out to be quite a bit different than the couloir though and a lot more involved than the vertical gain led us to believe. Exposed, more sugary snow, often scraping on rock underneath, and lots of traversing. There must have been as much traversing as there was vertical gain and this threw off our time estimate substantially. We got nervous and started pitching it out, reasoning that as long as we stayed safe we would certainly get up and over by nightfall and could walk down in the dark. The terrain was more complicated than the couloir and we were glad to have the old boot tracks to follow. I had read that we should continue trending right and the tracks agreed.

 

IMG_17841.jpg

The exposed NW face

 

The sun started going down. Gerrit has more alpine climbing experience and I had been forfeiting some of my food and water to keep him fueled and leading as quickly as possible. His headlamp had died on the approach and now we pulled out the spare battery to find that it looked exactly the same but was a few millimeters too short - the wrong battery. I gave him my headlamp and would follow the last 2 pitches in the dark, building a mental model of how to break down the anchor before he led out each time.

 

We finally arrived at the base of what had to be the summit block around 8pm, feeling pretty fried. The boot tracks ended at a point where the rock was ledgy but also kind of steep and exposed and it wasn't clear whether there were any protection opportunities. I would have walked right up it had I been wearing even running shoes and had some energy, but mantling in crampons in our depleted state seemed like a bad idea at the time. From researching the route I was pretty sure that there was an easier way but we couldn't tell what was what by headlamp. We resolved to take a break and collect ourselves.

 

The break turned into a bivy as we lost the confidence to continue in the dark. The moon had been very bright the night before so we hoped that it would soon rise and illuminate the way. We put on all of our clothes, sat on our packs, took off crampons and put our feet on the rope. I had an ultralight emergency bivy sack that I've thought was stupid every time I've thrown it in my pack in the last 3 years but I was glad to have it now. We couldn't pull it up past our hips but we could fit both of our legs into it and this helped to break the slight breeze and share some heat. We quickly tore it by punching a boot out of the bottom, reducing its effectiveness.

 

We had brought the stove and one small fuel canister but quickly found out that there wasn't much left in it. We managed to make about one liter before it started to sputter and we decided to save the rest for later. Gerrit had a warmer parka so I got to keep the warm bottle in my jacket.

 

For the first couple of hours I actually managed to sleep for periods of a few minutes at a time and it wasn't too bad. The last time we had eaten was around 5pm though and our only remaining food was one Snickers bar that we wanted to save for our push out of there. Without any calories coming in, we started to get cold in a bad way. My boots and socks were soaked and so were his gloves. Every time a breeze picked up we were reduced to convulsions. We took turns doing 10 minute sessions of squats before getting back into the bivy sack. This would generate a miniscule amount of heat that would always dissipate faster than it took to create. We used the last of our fuel to rewarm the last of our water and I stuffed the bottle back down my shirt after some sips. Then we got "close".

 

IMG_4698.jpg

Getting cozy

 

Early on Gerrit had brought up using the emergency locator beacon that I always carry climbing and skiing. I was strongly opposed to the idea on the grounds that we had not exhausted our options. The beacon is clearly for use in situations of "grave and imminent danger" and as shitty and serious as our situation was, it did not yet fit the criteria in my eyes. Could we really have climbed 99% of the route but not be able to get up the last short pitch and descend?

 

The moon came up but never shined enough on our aspect to show us the way, so we kept on waiting for sunrise. Mt. Stuart was lit up in the moonlight and looked like the most inhospitable place on earth. I thought of the nature of the climbing over there and how I would probably never be worthy enough to consider it. Did I even want to? I had just gotten stuck pushing my limit on a route that is a steep ski for many people.

 

Gerrit continued to bring up the beacon. I talked about how we would have to leave all of our gear on the mountain, how everyone at home would be worried, how it could potentially divert rescue resources away from a more serious emergency. He said we were too fucked up to keep climbing safely. What if the leader climbed themselves off route and couldn't downclimb? What if one of us slipped and broke an ankle? What if it got colder? Could we afford to wait until the sun came up? Couldn't we just be digging ourselves into a worse situation?

 

Doubts had grown in my head as the night went on. The cold was messing with me and I started to wonder how cold a person can get before they can't come back easily. I had never been this cold before and the things we had been doing all night to stay warm weren't working anymore. Earlier I had been sure that I had more in the tank to get us out of there but now I was questioning myself. I still felt like we had an obligation to try.

 

Eventually Gerrit insisted that he would be unable to descend safely under his own power even if I could take us up to the summit. I told him that we should split the Snickers bar and he should reconsider after having some food. He stuck to his opinion and around 4:30am I handed him the beacon and said that he would have to do it himself. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. I felt terrible about the call my wife was about to get. We speculated about what would happen and how long it would take to sort out the aftermath. I closed my eyes and tried to forget where I was.

 

At around 7am I was too cold to sit any longer and it was getting light. I got up and walked over to where the old boot tracks had stopped at the base of the rock but still found it unappealing like the night before. On the other side of our bivy site was a short snow ramp and some easy looking ledges and in the morning light it looked like they had to lead to the top. I got all of my stuff back on, went on belay, and scrambled some of the easiest 30 feet of the whole route to the summit and into the morning sun. I brought Gerrit up and we started our descent.

 

IMG_17922.jpg

Gerrit scrambling to the summit

 

As we walked across the summit plateau the helicopter arrived for the first time. We weren't sure what to do. Wave like "hi"? Wave like "go away"? Thumbs up? We did some of each and they seemed to pause near us but did not communicate back. They flew off towards Dragontail which confused us, but we just kept descending. My brain was now boiling in the sun on a southern aspect and I was messed up enough that I didn't trust myself to downclimb the steepest parts of the snow off of the plateau, so I did 2 rappels on the way to Colchuck col. We passed several parties on their way up that were very generous with food and water that we needed badly. Thank you!

 

The helicopter continued to fly back and forth out of sight as we walked down the glacier. Eventually they started circling us and made contact with hand signals. They landed on the lake and we confirmed that we were the group in question and that we were fine.

 

I later learned that the beacon had been reporting locations all over the Stuart range and the closest one to our location was near Witches Tower, probably over a mile away. My understanding is that the sheriff probably located our bivy site and us only because they made contact with my wife who I had told our intended route. I used GPS on my phone to look at a topo while we were at the bivy site and it had no trouble, so I imagine that the beacon must have been defective. I intend to follow up with the sherrif and beacon manufacturer about this issue. Notably there was no cell phone service with either ATT or Verizon on on the summit of Colchuck.

 

A couple days later I think I still have more questions than answers about the experience. I consider myself to be very conservative about what I get myself into, almost to a fault. I had been researching the route on and off for over a year and thought that it would be a good challenge for us without being risky. Did I wildly misjudge the appropriateness of the route for our skill level or did we just make one too many mistakes that added up to a big mess? None of the climbing was difficult. When should we have bailed? Our pace was slow, but groups top out in the evening all the time. After all, it was only a few hours difference between a long day and an overnight epic. How would we have figured out beforehand that the face would take so long? Should we have pressed on in the night? When your head is in a bad place, how do you know whether having found yourself up shit creek is part of the experience that you came here for or if things have really gotten out of hand and you need help?

 

I do have some thoughts on emergency equipment and the survivability of different conditions. We had the most mild weather that a person could ask for with minimal wind and temps probably in the low to mid 30s. But with tired bodies, no food, and wet clothes, I feel like we were walking a thin line. If conditions had deteriorated much at all, the situation could have been grave. Luckily I kept putting back on my wet gloves all day while climbing and preserved a dry pair for the bivy. We used basically every item in our packs and it was barely enough. We talked at length during the night about things that would have made it infinitely better and we would have paid a million bucks for in the moment: a short sleeping pad to sit on, a bigger belay jacket, puffy pants, a more substantial bivy sack that could provide full coverage and fit 2 people, more fuel, more food, a change of socks, a tarp, etc. I'll definitely be adding or upgrading an item or two in my pack and adjusting the way that I pick clothing appropriate for the weather forecast to have a larger margin of safety.

 

This was somewhat embarrassing for me to write and post but I hope that myself and others might learn something from it. Climbing is more popular than ever especially at the novice level and I find it hard to imagine that situations like these do not occur with some regularity, but they are rarely written about here.

 

Gear Notes:

10 cams to #2, 1 set of nuts, 1 picket, 3 pins. Should have brought all double length runners.

 

Approach Notes:

Icy trail, post holing beyond the lake.

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Glad you made it out safe, and thanks for having the guts to post about it here.

 

I think you are learning the right things about some extras that could have made life a lot better. A foam pad, lightweight puffy pants and space blanket are cheap insurance in the winter. As are some handwarmer packs.

 

Since it sounds like you never wanted to push the button, does Gerrit now realize that you were most likely right?

 

Also, I'm curious, was it a SPOT or a true PLB? The location SNAFU makes me think it was the former.

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It was an ACR ResQLink 375, a true PLB so to speak. I bought it over SPOT or similar for its reliable reputation and I was very surprised when I heard that it had reported bogus locations. We had not even considered that as a possibility with the open sky, clear weather, and leaving it active for many hours. I ran the self test a few weeks back and it seemed to say that everything was fine.

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hope you availed yerself of the free ride back to the automovat and of course a heaping handful of the heavy morphine for their troubles? :)

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I have to admit at the time I knew that there was a good chance using the beacon was the wrong call. Part of my decision was that I had been draining my energy for more days than Jake including leading almost all of this day in deep powder snow. I was really at my limit and I knew I was not going to lead the rest of the unknown path with a good margin of safety.

 

Part of my decision to want to use the beacon was that I didn't really consider Jake or me would be able to lead. Of course Jake nutted up and made quick work of the final pitch. At the time we were also not sure if it was 1 pitch or not. We had experienced many heartbreaking false summits on the way up and I felt pretty defeated at that point.

 

It seemed that calling for a rescue was the only way to be certain I could be safe. Looking back I now know that of course it was fine. I think when only considering the information I had at the time I can't really say my decision was a mistake.

 

It does feel crappy how it all worked out. I feel embarrassed and don't really want to comment on it but I know if I do I can help prevent someone from making similar choices.

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It was an ACR ResQLink 375,

 

Ouch, that's what I'm using. Do you think the battery might have been low? How old was it? Please post the follow-up info when/if you figure out what happened.

 

Usually you don't want to rely on being able to descend in the dark unless you've done the descent before, or it's well marked or obvious. Sometimes I will recon the descent beforehand, makes it easier to commit to going after dark.

 

If not committing to the dark you need a turnaround time. If you don't make it you turn back. This gets tricky though on some routes when there's a point of no return and the shortest way off becomes up and over.

 

When you go light you take the minimum, part of the trick is knowing what that is. If you get stormed you need to try to dig a snow hole. Also hydration is key. Maybe a full fuel bottle? Sometimes those get cold and the flame will go low but it's not out of fuel.

 

Think about what it would take to comfortably survive this situation next time. How much more weight would it be? I think when you're climbing unless it's vertical to overhanging that a few more pounds (less than 5) doesn't make that much difference anyway. Less than 5 pounds each you could have both had puffy pants, a 3/4 foam pad, a real bivy sack, plenty of fuel for water, and some energy bars. The trick then becomes knowing when you might need this so you aren't carrying it all the time on day climbs.

 

When the sun comes up you usually get a second wind. Also you can move in place without getting out of the bivy. Just shake your legs and arms.

 

It sounds like you were more prepared than he was, and you made the correct call on the rescue. There's probably not too many stories like this untold because the PLB is fairly new. I got stuck on Shuksan in winter one time and hit by a storm. I dug a snow hole with a stove pot, it would have been dire without it. This was before even cell phones. All I had to save me was a pre-arranged return time. That used to really suck if you weren't going to be in trouble but needed another day to complete something, no way to call in and extend the return time.

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I have to admit at the time I knew that there was a good chance using the beacon was the wrong call. Part of my decision was that I had been draining my energy for more days than Jake including leading almost all of this day in deep powder snow. I was really at my limit and I knew I was not going to lead the rest of the unknown path with a good margin of safety.

 

Part of my decision to want to use the beacon was that I didn't really consider Jake or me would be able to lead. Of course Jake nutted up and made quick work of the final pitch. At the time we were also not sure if it was 1 pitch or not. We had experienced many heartbreaking false summits on the way up and I felt pretty defeated at that point.

 

It seemed that calling for a rescue was the only way to be certain I could be safe. Looking back I now know that of course it was fine. I think when only considering the information I had at the time I can't really say my decision was a mistake.

 

It does feel crappy how it all worked out. I feel embarrassed and don't really want to comment on it but I know if I do I can help prevent someone from making similar choices.

 

It's okay, everyone makes mistakes while they're learning the ropes. And most of the rescue guys are doing it for the thrill so they don't really mind. Plus you got to test the PLB which revealed a flaw and might lead to needed improvement.

 

I'm sure you will study your gear more carefully. When you go minimum everything needs to be 100% like the headlamp. Headlamps are so light now that I will take an extra with a 2 person team. Also try some different gloves. I have a pair of OR gore-tex and they go all day in the wettest conditions without getting wet inside.

 

And good on you for telling your story, it helps others to learn from your mistakes.

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Ouch, that's what I'm using. Do you think the battery might have been low? How old was it?

 

I believe I purchased it 2-3 years ago. The battery expiration date is 07/2018. I have only run the GPS self test 3-4 times and it is supposed to have enough excess battery life to run it many more times than that.

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Ouch, that's what I'm using. Do you think the battery might have been low? How old was it?

 

I believe I purchased it 2-3 years ago. The battery expiration date is 07/2018. I have only run the GPS self test 3-4 times and it is supposed to have enough excess battery life to run it many more times than that.

 

Dang it! Now I don't trust my PLB!

 

I'll add a couple more things. Learn how to dig a good snow cave and be ready to do it. People die quite frequently just on the Muir snowfield, and they would walk away unscathed with just a simple strategy.

 

Hydration is more important than food, and it sounds like you guys might have been dehydrated before you even bivied. Dehydration makes your blood thicker and it doesn't circulate as well to keep you warm in the cold. When you are stuck somewhere and low on fuel it becomes more important to save fuel to melt more snow for water than to warm the water for heat, or to even warm it in the first place.

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Thanks for writing that up and I am glad you guys are safe. The post mortem on trips that go sideways often reveal a chain of small events that in and of themselves are of little consequence, but added up lead to less than ideal circumstances. In this case the slightly late start, ice on the toilet, wrong head lamp battery, etc. lead to the perfect storm. I know you and Gerrit are smart guys and will take away the hard learned lessons and be better climbers for it.

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Thanks for reporting, shit can get real fast! I don't know about you, but all it takes is reaching the car before all struggles of an epic disappear out of my head and I'm already planning for something else. I'm sure you'll be making your way up Stuart by the end of summer!

 

Wrapping around the NBC to the summit is slightly confusing and the correct path is not obvious.

 

 

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I don't know about you, but all it takes is reaching the car before all struggles of an epic disappear out of my head and I'm already planning for something else.

 

This is a lot of why I felt I had to write a TR. The whole trip already felt like a dream by the next day and I had to look at the photos I took to really believe it happened. It would have been easy to avoid the subject and pretend like it never happened, but it was probably the worst night of my life and I would like this to stick around as a reminder to myself.

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Thanks for having the courage to put your story out there - I hope you guys didn't sustain any frostbite / cold-injury that has longer-term consequences.

 

I, too, have that ResQLink model and appreciate learning that there was some trouble with getting a precise location on y'all.

 

This link is from the ACR website explaining how the device is supposed to work. I'm curious if the 'bouncing' of the signals relates to step #3 (repeated satellite passes updating / processing new info)? Or step #6? Or it was sending GPS-based lat/long directly via the satellite signal, and it was this data itself that was inaccurate or bouncy?

 

I know you don't know the answers to these questions right now, but I have thought of the ResQLink PLBs as being as close to a 'failsafe' device with respect to functionality as you can get (in contrast to other competing products on the market like SPOT or DeLorme). It'd be great if more detail from the SAR staff could be provided about what exactly the issue was (if they know).

 

I'm curious if there was similar difficulty in precise SAR location of the recent party on Stuart that initiated a rescue from their PLB?

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The sheriff did mention to my wife that it was highly unusual to see such widely scattered locations. I will post in detail eventually when I get more information about the beacon issue.

Edited by jakedouglas

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The sheriff did mention to my wife that it was highly unusual to see such widely scattered locations. I will post in detail eventually when I get more information about the beacon issue.

 

After you guys set the beacon off did you leave it in one place without moving it? Not sure that should matter but who knows.

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Good story, thanks for posting. Anybody who's climbed much has been in a situation where they would consider activating a PLB if they had one. I don't have one but its on my "to do" list.

 

I'm not sure I understand the sequence of events but, did you activate the PLB and leave it on while you summited and descended? Could this account for the false readings?

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Good point. Typically once they go off they keep transmitting location, for up to 24 hours. Maybe the location updates periodically?

 

 

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After you guys set the beacon off did you leave it in one place without moving it?

 

Yes, for the most part. I think we held it in our laps for a few minutes and then set it down on top of hard packed snow, or I may have set it on the lid of the stove when we were not using it, thinking that the cold would not be ideal for it. The specified lowest operating temperature is -4F though and it was nowhere near that so I was not too concerned.

 

It remained there blinking for around 3 hours until we started packing up to depart. The antenna was oriented in the correct position. We were sitting with our backs against the wall of the summit block but the beacon still had a clear view of at least half the sky.

 

My iPhone had been in airplane mode (GPS disabled) to save battery, as I always do when climbing in case it should be needed for emergency. I pulled it out to look at our location on a topo using the Gaia GPS app and it located us with very high accuracy within only about 15 seconds. I took a screenshot at the time to reference later:

 

IMG_46961.jpg

 

When we packed up to leave we left the beacon on but put it in the lid of Gerrit's backpack. Once we were on the summit and saw the helicopter we disabled it.

 

Putting it in the backpack and climbing with it could have generated bogus locations. Like I said previously though, my understanding is that the nearest reported location to our actual location that was ever received by SAR was at Witches Tower and some were as far away as Prusik Peak. I heard all of this through my wife and it sounds like there was a lot of confusing information being passed around so I'm going to follow up and clarify.

 

In any case, this is supposed to be one of the most rugged and reliable beacons on the market. With the high accuracy provided by GPS in common consumer electronics such as phones and sport watches I find it hard to believe that a subtle operating error should cause this beacon to fail to locate us within a mile of our location with open sky and clear weather.

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Glad to hear you made it out okay, especially with all your fingers and toes! What a shame to bivy 30ft from the ridgetop, but I understand what it is like to not know/see how close you are to the exit when in the dark...

 

My biggest reason for not purchasing a PLB like the ACR ResQLink is that you can't "cancel" an emergency signal, as far as i'm aware.

 

With a spot/Inreach if you decide to hit the SOS button and thereafter manage to find yourself out of trouble, you can cancel your emergency distress signal. This feature, and especially the 2 way text capability with inreach, makes these devices far superior over other PLBs/EPIRBS for users that travel/climb in the mountains.

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i would rather write 5 stories here that embarrass me than deal with almost any physical trauma, frostbite feet, etc. Would have traded that for the 9 months of downtime and the terrible hassle and cost of foot surgery from stupidly lead climbing two season ago. So very glad you are both ok physically, the ego can heal, but you only have 1 body per lifetime. There's been some injury TRs lately and I would much prefer to see this than that, for everyone's sake. To me it sounds like you weren't too far off prep/research/difficulty wise/gear, but did get pushed to your margins-that can happen to the most prepared and prudent (which is why they focus on being so prepared). You say if things were worse weather wise you would have been up shit creek further--but I get the impression that if you saw that potential in the forecast you probably would have further hedged against it (gear/turn around time/etc), no? gives me a little comfort for always including a quality sit pad.

 

 

without getting into it too much, SPOT functionality options =! superior imo. I'm still of the understanding that the Cospas-Sarsat system is superior to private enterprise operations. The satellite system is supported by a bevy of countries and has high (geostationary) and low elevation circumpolar sats, and it looks like they may be launching a medium range SARsat system. The 406mhz transmission is supposed to be much stronger than the 1601(?)mhz transmission by SPOT(II/3). Features = everyone at home feel good. PLB = send the troops. 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.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Cospas-Sarsat_Programme

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Echo what others have said, glad you made it ok. That's always the most important thing!

 

As to the style points, you guys already know it was a bummer to hit the button. You did a good introspective post-mortem in this write up, good for you for being so publically self-critical. Nothing to add there except,

 

The NBC on Colchuck is almost the easiest alpine route there is, or at least perhaps the easiest "full length" alpine trip, one I always recommend to all newbies looking for their first "real" alpine snow climb. But that assumes a few things: level of fitness and energy, and a certain element of preparedness, and being pretty good and fast at snow-climbing. Bottom line, one shouldn't be spending 12 hours round trip to camp, let alone to the summit. There just aren't that many hours in the day, in March. I am not sure where the hours went....it sounds like you guys already know all that, and *started* with completely the right mindframe, simul-soloing the first bit, foregoing the rope, all that was really good, but it seems to have spiraled down with some effort and fatigue, compounding into you not making it to the summit by dark. 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!!). I would look very carefully at your energy replenishment scheme, actually count the calories you ingested Fri night: it sounds like neither of you probably ate or drank enough from the day before to be fully recovered for the climb, the day of. You needed thousands of calories Friday night, did you get them? Whatever you brought and ate, double it for next time. I am a chronic under-packer when it comes to food, so I know this first-hand from all-too-often bonking after under-eating/under-hydrating.

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Echo what others have said, glad you made it ok. That's always the most important thing!

 

As to the style points, you guys already know it was a bummer to hit the button. You did a good introspective post-mortem in this write up, good for you for being so publically self-critical. Nothing to add there except,

 

The NBC on Colchuck is almost the easiest alpine route there is, or at least perhaps the easiest "full length" alpine trip, one I always recommend to all newbies looking for their first "real" alpine snow climb. But that assumes a few things: level of fitness and energy, and a certain element of preparedness, and being pretty good and fast at snow-climbing. Bottom line, one shouldn't be spending 12 hours round trip to camp, let alone to the summit. There just aren't that many hours in the day, in March. I am not sure where the hours went....it sounds like you guys already know all that, and *started* with completely the right mindframe, simul-soloing the first bit, foregoing the rope, all that was really good, but it seems to have spiraled down with some effort and fatigue, compounding into you not making it to the summit by dark. 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!!). I would look very carefully at your energy replenishment scheme, actually count the calories you ingested Fri night: it sounds like neither of you probably ate or drank enough from the day before to be fully recovered for the climb, the day of. You needed thousands of calories Friday night, did you get them? Whatever you brought and ate, double it for next time. I am a chronic under-packer when it comes to food, so I know this first-hand from all-too-often bonking after under-eating/under-hydrating.

 

Thanks for the remarks. Being the easiest thing that could still be considered a route is why I picked the NBC. Gerrit has more snow climbing experience and I think I slowed us down by wanting to use the rope in places that he would have been OK without. I doubt that either of us would have climbed the face without the rope but in retrospect we would have been fine soloing the rest of the couloir above the steps near the bottom.

 

Not to excuse the mistake, but I'm curious how much the snow conditions contributed to our slow time. On Friday night the party whose tracks we followed arrived back at the lake around 7pm and walked past our tent. They were surprised at how long it had taken and said that they had started from camp at 9am and soloed the entire route except for a single roped pitch. This would make it roughly 10 hours round trip which seems to border on unacceptable in your opinion.

 

On the approach we had talked about bailing if it ended up being a wallow fest, but once we started climbing we failed to recognize that it was a problem and adjust the plan. We have plenty of history bailing on things when the situation didn't seem right, so I don't think we were being hard headed. I think we just continually underestimated how much climbing we had ahead of us.

 

I ate around 2000 calories after arriving at the lake Friday afternoon and 500 calories for breakfast on Saturday morning. I do a lot of endurance exercise and I feel like I have a very clear connection with my body regarding energy and rest needs. The effort expended to get to the lake was not significantly taxing to me and I felt good on the morning of the climb and throughout the vast majority of the day.

 

Gerrit was more tired to begin with and could have eaten more on Friday night, but he did not move that much slower than I did during the climb. I carried the rope and rack on approach so he could conserve energy. I would say that his tiredness was a contributing factor but not a huge one until later in the night. All things considered, he did a good job leading the face and getting us to the summit block.

 

Yes, the bottom line is that we took way too long for a variety of reasons. It's clear that we should have bailed early on.

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Great comments all. Jake, please be sure to post back when you get the location SNAFU addressed with the manufacturer.

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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.

 

10 hours camp to camp seems like a really long time as well, I don't know maybe I am off base? I've soloed this route some years back and I remember vividly splitting with my buddy at the Lake, him taking the normal route (Colchuck Glacier), and me beating him to the summit, perhaps 2, or 2 and a half hours up? I think the couloir took me an hour and the face an hour and a half? I was kicking steps too as the climb fills in right away with spindrift, but at the very top where the couloir steepens, there were some buckets to follow for a bit. But it wasn't a wallow fest up the couloir, probably only knee deep max. The North Face was also sugar snow as you describe, and so in terrain like that I always solo anyway (and make sure that any partner I have is also comfortable soloing that kind of terrain), with shaft plunges and the tools attached to my harness via cord through their heads, and I move carefully with always "three points of contact". After watching Ueli Steck on the Eiger, I realize now that my snow climbing technique is ULTRA-CONSERVATIVE!! compared to that guy!! But I am still very fast.

 

 

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