Thursday, March 27, 2008
Mt Rainier ~ June 2006 ~ The lost pages
After digging through one of my random memorabilia boxes the other night I came across a journal that I thought was long gone. Tucked away in the last few pages was an entry I had made on a climb up Mt Rainier a couple of years ago. It's a cool little entry depicting an act of sheer and utter stupidity. The part of the village idiot is played by myself. Note: This is not the continuation of the Rainier story I began a few months ago and never finished. I will finish that one for you folks soon enough, I promise.
June 26th, 2006 - Camp Schurman, Mt Rainier - 9460 feet
We descended from the summit during an unseasonal and until earlier this week a very unexpected warm spell. The freezing level rose to a hefty 14,500 feet. It was tee shirt weather at the top for sure! Hooman and I thought it would be a good time to glissade back to camp for the last 1500 feet of the glacier. Hooman on foot by standing glissade, myself on rump - slip and slide style.
Because of the extreme warmth (approx 45 degrees F), the glacier resembled the look and feel of a 7-11 Slurpee (minus of course the flavoring and that cool little red-cupped straw that you can use as a spoon when you're tired of slurping through said straw.) But I digress. And with both Nalgenes empty, I was getting extremely dehydrated from the altitude and reflected heat. After we unroped, I plopped my Gore-Tex covered bum down in the slushy layer, picked a line and with ice ax in the ready to self arrest. Then shot on down the mountain. I love glissading. It takes me back to when I was a kid riding the gigantic water slide at the Jersey shore. Not too much difference between the two; only in the mountains there are no lines and a lot less mullets.
Within minutes, I descended the first 600 feet cheerfully and without a hitch, but I found that I was uncomfortably out of site from my climbing partner who was undoubtedly still plugging away on foot. Not to mention that I was now paddling and bicycle kicking through at least eight inch layer of slush in order to make any progress down the mountain. Moving fast via my bum is now pretty much out of the equation. I gave sliding a few more earnest attempts, then decided it was time to continue back on foot.
As I flattened by cramponed boot on the glacier to begin to stand, the entire lower part of my right leg disappeared into the mountain. And all of the weight which it was once bearing shifted to my right elbow as I shrunk into the ice. Oh shit. Calmly, I continued the shift to my right arm in effort to distract my torso and prevent it from getting any smart ideas like following my leg into the really neat hole that it just made in the snow. As I did this, my right arm thought that it was bored anyway and decided to join its' buddy (the leg) in this little game of hide and go seek. So it dissapeared into a neat little hole as well. The funny thing about emergency situations like this is that you suddenly begin to think in the 3rd person. Its' as if you are an instructor who has to talk a hopeless moron out of this super shitty and extremely perilous situation. And the kicker is that you have to go home and have beers with this asshole even after you save his life!
So the first thing the 'instructor' tells me is, 'Dude, you are so screwed right now.' The second is to breathe. So I took his advice and with a deep breath analyzed the situation. I am slowly being eaten by a very angry volcano. Its' mouth is a cold, gaping crevasse; possibly hundreds of feet deep. Do I quickly roll to my side and hope that it's solid? But a shift in weight could send me plummeting to my demise. So this 'mouth ,' is it running vertically or horizontally? Perhaps it's running on an angle? No telling! With my free hand I attempted to spin my ax on it's end in order to probe the surrounding glacier. I'll just poke around until I find something solid. But that subtle motion was enough to make the thin snow bridge give way and my entire body dropped out beneath me. Luckily the instructor took over and both my hands were tightly gripping the shaft of my ax while its' teeth bit tightly into the crevasses' lip.
Slow motion. The dyneema sling vibrates with tension from ax head to belay loop. It is then I realize only the first few centimeters of my pick are set upon the edge. My legs kick with authority into what seems like concrete, sharpened crampons desperate to make purchase with no success. I take a moment to look down into the blue ice; centuries deep and contrasted by seemingly bottomless black nothing. This mountain wants to devour my very soul. I throw two more fierce steps into the icy wall, this time they stick. Climbing way way out of the shivering maw, my heart races and eyes have never been wider. Hyperventilating, I flop upon my grateful belly on the solid ice and remember that famous statistic on how a vast majority of climbers are injured on their descent.
Lesson Learned. Always rope up kids!