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nnonanonn

[TR] S Twin - W Ridge, and close call on NE face descent 6/5/2016

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Trip: S Twin - W Ridge, and close call on NE face descent

 

Date: 6/5/2016

 

Trip Report:

This is a long one, as it was a bit of a headtrip. tldr - beware the bergschrund on the NE face of S Twin, if you choose to descend that way. I didn't see it coming . . . careful descending what you did not ascend.

 

Saturday looked like a great day for a day trip in the mountains. Off to S Twin I went. I had a late start from the TH, around 10am, so I was pushing my bike up the road in the already hot sun. Great views of Baker and Lincoln eased the monotony.

 

Arriving at the junction with the W Ridge approach, I stashed the bike by the big pipe and set off through the alder. This section only lasts about 15 minutes. It has a funny artificial feel. You cross many little streams, each with the same mounded embankment at the same angle to the stream. Then there is an abrupt transition from bog to silver cedar shells. The trail is pretty faint but someone went a little crazy flagging the place, so there's never any doubt in navigating.

 

Gradually I left the woods and reached talus, which dropped me off near N Twin. So I had to descend slightly, heading S towards S Twin. Around an hour after ditching my bike I headed up a 30-40 degree couloir to an obvious notch in the ridge.

 

The ridge started off brushy and boring, but became steeper and more entertaining in time. I stretched this section out a little by staying as true to the ridgeline as possible, except where it looked too dangerous to solo in boots or just a little too contrived. One of the last notches has a wide crack that would have been fun to climb in other circumstances. The ridge steepens again noticeably near the top. The routefinding to keep it at 4th class (or 1-2 safe looking low 5th class moves, tops) became a little circuitous, but it was there to be found.

 

Once at the top of the ridge it was a few more minutes walk to reach the true summit.

 

I had planned on descending the NE ridge to the col between N and S Twin. It wasn't obvious where to start. I found a place to start and descended 100 feet or so. But I didn't like it (the W Ridge spoiled me) and when I reached a point where the snow looked good on the N side of the NE ridge, I transitioned to the snow. From where I started on snow, I could see a few hundred feet below me where the snowfield flattens out near the col, and saw no rocks between me and that place.

 

It was too steep to glissade, so I was facing in, stepping into soft but secure-enough snow, using both of my tools. On some steps I would slide down a little, which I didn't mind. If it seemed like too much sliding or too fast, I would just step to the side to stop for a second before continuing on. So it was kind of a standing face-in glissade in little spurts, punctuated with more typical downclimbing.

 

I was in a moment of sliding when I noticed something was different. It took me a fraction of a second to realize that there was air under my feet and that I was falling. Then I had only just enough time to realize that I didn't know if this was the END when I landed painlessly on snow. Looking up I saw that I had fallen about 12 feet over the edge of a bergschrund. Looking around, I saw I was just inside the lip of the moat, with a bit of a pit or crevasse a few feet to me left. It took a minute to free my right foot, which was jammed pretty deep in the snow. Then I backed away up and over the lip of the moat as soon as I could to get away from that pit.

 

In the fall one of my tools had instantly disappeared in the snow. It was uncanny how fast it vanished, like the snow intentionally swallowed it up. I assessed my landing spot from a different vantage point to try to ensure it wasn't too hollow underneath. I gingerly went back near the spot and poked a bunch of holes and did a little digging, trying to take care not to undermine my position. It was eery how instantaneously the snow hardened underneath me. It's easy to see how people vanish in avalanches. I was very lucky in where I landed. Not so in my search for the 2nd tool. I gave up on it and headed to the col.

 

Though I was a little rattled and tense downclimbing the rock on the other side of the col, overall there was a strange lack of panic or anything like that in the immediate aftermath of the fall. There was just the focus on reacting to the situation and the steps of what I needed to do. The shock and nausea don't set in until later, when reliving that moment. I can viscerally recall freefall and it knots my stomach.

 

It feels surreal to have lived through a moment of total loss of control, where things could have very easily been disastrous or fatal. There were other other points along that 'schrund where the gap was more like 20 feet. There was some exposed rock here and there. I mean, it could have been a 50 foot drop for all I knew, since I was totally oblivious of the danger.

I still think it likely wasn't possible to perceive the bergschrund from where I started my descent, but I wonder at what point would it have been observable? I know I hadn't stopped to get a real look below me in far too long at the point that I fell. But the last time I did look, had I just seen what I wanted to, my mind filling in the blanks?

 

After the descent down the other side of the col and the hike down, I ran into a couple climbers who were headed to Skookum. I had finished off my third liter of water an hour earlier, so thanks again for the sip! 20 minutes or so on the bike and I was back at the car.

 

The trip took nearly 9 hours car-to-car, which was more than I anticipated. When I climbed N Twin a couple years ago, I recall being home with plenty of daylight. The approach, the ridge, and the descent are a each a bit longer on S Twin, and it adds up.

 

Gear Notes:

crampons were nice to have in a couple spots, but you could find a way without them

 

Approach Notes:

Bike is nice.

People on the workvan on the road didn't shake me down for a permit or anything.

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As you know, you're damn lucky.

 

When backing down, always turn around frequently and make sure there aren't strange looking areas below you, holes, etc. And, sliding while facing in with two tools is a recipe for problems regardless of whether or not there is a hole below you.

 

That 'schrund on the S. Twin is well-known and obvious on aerial photos, guidebook photos, etc. A bit of research on the descent you had chosen should have made you wary, esp. given how fast things are melting out this year.

 

I know I'm sounding a bit harsh, but the mountains often don't give you a second chance. Fortunately you gained some experience, without much cost, that will serve you on later climbs. Remember the lessons!

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Agreed. I didn't come across anything noting the 'schrund before doing the route, which is the main reason I submitted this post.

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Thanks for the honest writeup. I think anyone who spends enough time in the mountains has a "close call" eventually, whether they realize it or not.

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