Glacier Travel & Crevasse Rescue Field Trip, April 22-23, 2006
It was that time of year again - time for the Mountaineer's Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue Field Trip. As luck would have it, the group's lucky talisman Skip Swenson was once again back in the fold as an instructor this year, which in years past had guaranteed clear skies, and the forecast held true to form, a welcome return to fortuitous weather after last year's hypothermia fest.
We left from Michael and Corinne's newly rented townhouse in Kirkland, and as Corinne's mom was in town from Paris, both of the new parents were able to make the field trip. Michael dropped the hammer on his large American SUV and we arrived right on schedule at Paradise at 8:30 AM, where a large group of 40 some-odd students and instructors was stepping into climbing harnesses and slapping skins on skis.
We headed out promptly under brilliant blue skies and in rapidly warming temperatures, moving in a deliberate line toward Alta Vista, where we set to work doing a series of self-arrest exercises with both ski poles and ice axes, then moved on to building snow anchors. After a quick break for food and fluid, we proceeded to leverage systems, having each team member occupy end, middle and victim positions on the rope and building "Z," "C" and Canadian Drop Loop rescue systems in rotation. Maybe this year's group of students was just smarter than last year's, and perhaps the good weather had a positive effect, but in any case we whipped through the drills in short order and started talking about a little afternoon "free time" on the Muir Snowfield.
A big group of perhaps half of the class participants skinned up toward Panorama Point, with some opting to descend the regular climbing trail and many dropping into the lower portion of the Nisqually Chutes. Fun turns in a variety of snow ranging from breakable sun-crust to corn mush made for some nice photo opportunities on the way down, after which we re-grouped in the lot for the traditional European wine-salami-bread-soup in the afternoon rays. The highlight of the evening was Paul Russell's rounding a blind snowbank in his Subaru and completely flattening Kam Leang's hibachi complete with sizzling chicken breasts and burgers . . . well, you had to be there, but it was hilarious.
Jerry White had made the usual arrangements to camp on the snow next to the now-defunct Paradise Hotel, which turned out to be somewhat less than a total success. As dusk fell, strong winds kicked up with regular gusts in the 50 mph range, making sleep a little difficult due the constant flapping of nylon . . . at least we weren't camping at Muir, I guess!
Day two started early with the class meeting pretty much on time at 6:30 AM. Unfortunately, the advance scouts from the Techniques Investigation Team had been unsuccessful in finding a good crevasse within an hour or so from the parking lot, as the abundant snow this year had filled everything on the lower Nisqually in, so Darryl and crew made the decision to run through the rescue systems in the famed Paradise Parking Lot Glacier - not quite the same esthetically as hanging in cool blue walls of ice, but the danger of falling and breaking your leg on the blacktop or smashing your head on a parked backhoe was real.
The exercise went better than any of us had hoped, with all members of our team completing their rotations by around 11:00 AM. Several of us took a quick break for burgers at the Visitor Center (pretty damn good) after which we reconvened at the "treatment plant" for a roped run up to the Nisqually. Michael, Monika and I were let off the hook by other instructors generously volunteering to take our students, so we headed up to the Nisqually Chutes along with David Perez and Corinne. The view of the lower glacier and moraine were spectacular, and we could make out the distinct rope teams moving out onto the smooth snow.
Conditions on the way down were again variable, with the still-strong wind creating a challenging crust in the upper section. Michael suggested a chute to the west as a way of avoiding the wind-scoured aspect of the main Nisqually Chute, so we traversed around the bottom of the rock band and dropped in . . . Voila! Smooth-like-butta spring refrozen snow, turning to damper corn as we neared the Nisqually moraine! We chatted briefly with a few members of the class on their way down the mountain, then skied out all the way to the bridge, where we had left David's car. A great ski, a memorable way to cap the weekend, and what's not to like about 4,600 vertical feet of skiing for 3,000 feet of skinning?