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twodogdad
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PostSun May 13, 2012 2:20 am 
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Crevassology

You may have seen/heard the story already. Here is the full story, and a few photos (from the hole).

Friday, May 11, I was headed for Mt Pattison (Blackcomb backcountry). My partner was Ermanno, an Italian I had just met on the lift. Perfect weather; perfect company: how many times do you run into a capable partner when there is no one for miles around (Ermanno hies from the Italian Alps). So we skied and skinned and skied again, enjoying ourselves and reviewing famous Italian soccer rivalries. My younger partner was a little faster and got ahead of me as we skinned up the E shoulder of Decker, gaining the top. I was 50-60 meters behind, when I saw a long crack ahead of me. There were several tracks going over the crack but I approached cautiously--I respect cracks--and started probing it with my pole to see if it was a crevasse and how strong the snow bridge was. And then it happened: the snow I was standing on collapsed and before I knew it I found myself at the bottom of a crevasse. I was able to dig out my skis (my bindings were locked and hand’t released; one of my feet was buried much deeper than the other and the snow was consolidating around it fast), and in the process it became clear that I wasn’t at the bottom: I had fallen some 10-12 meters and had a soft landing because the collapsed snow bridge had cushioned my fall, creating a second snow bridge possibly half-way down the crevasse. I’m not sure how deep the crevasse really is but after ginger exploration right and left I could see that it was much deeper on either side. So this was the good news: no injury, only 30-40 feet down. The bad news: solid walls of ice north and south, with big overhanging cornices at the top. One of those cornices was humongous and was the main threat: it was a warm day; I could see cracks in the cornices, and it was a matter of time before they collapsed. To the west, the crevasse ran straight for another 20 meters, then branched off into a very large and seemingly bottomless snow cave. (All the ski tracks went on top of it: Spearheaders beware.) To the east, the crevasse extended farther than I could see. There was bright light around the E corner so I thought it might be possible to crawl out that way, but between me and the corner was a deep hole flanked by vertical walls: no way I’d be able to reach the corner. I had standard backcountry gear. I didn’t carry crevasse rescue gear (I was concerned about slides, given the temperature). I had been on that route before; I had read all sorts of reports and never seen any reference to crevasses along that stretch of the Spearhead. (Subsequently, I learned that a summer photo on google earth shows some bad crevasses in that area. Live and learn, indeed.) Anyhow, even if I’d had a couple of ice screws and prussiks and steel crampons and ice tools (how many of you, backcountry travelers, carry those?)—nay, even a rope—all that would have been useless given the overhanging cornices. (Maybe an experienced ice climber would be able to climb out; I’m not an ice climber.) The crevasse was too wide to use chimney technique. In short, I had to be rescued.

I knew that Ermanno would realize before long what had happened. He had skinned across the crack. He was maybe 20 pounds lighter and that may be why the snow bridge hadn’t collapsed under him; it’s also possible that what doomed me was that I had stopped to investigate, and my poking of the snow ahead of me was all the precarious snow bridge needed to collapse. Be that as it may. Having seen the crevasse and the overhangs from below, I was terrified that Ermanno would retrace his own track, one of the cornices would collapse under him—and I would have company. We’d be stuck in the hole, both of us. Fortunately, my Italian friend was cautious—or cautious and lucky: he came close enough so we could talk, and we quickly came to the conclusion that the only way out was for him to speed back and bring rescuers with proper gear. Which he did.

In the meantime, I had a couple of rather interesting hours to spend pondering my luck: I wasn’t injured; I hadn’t fallen to the bottom; I wasn’t squashed (yet) by collapsing chunks of frozen snow; it was a warm day, and I had enough clothing and an emergency blanket to survive (maybe) one night (ironically, I had just wondered as I was huffing and puffing up the shoulder of Decker why I had extra clothing and gloves in my pack). But above all: I HAD a partner. (It's not difficult to imagine the same scenario--without a partner.)

I had just about enough space to move around and study the crevasse: it was extraordinary. There were formations of snow and ice inside this one unlike anything I had seen at Rainier or Baker. Some of it was gorgeous, in a sinister kind of way--the kind of beauty you are not supposed to see so you have to wonder what the price of such forbidden sights is: this sub-nivean realm of ice naturally suggested the other world from which, famously, few return. But I was in good spirits. (My photos of the crevasse’s insides, unfortunately, fail to do justice to what I saw: it was dangerous to move around so as to get the best angle, and I’m not a good photographer, anyway.)

I figured it would be at least 3-4 hours before the rescue team came. Help actually arrived after just a little over 2 hours, by helicopter. Ermanno had been fast. They flew over me several times, coming ever so close and raining chunks of ice on me which was quite scary since the one thing that really made me nervous all the time was the cornices above me. Eventually I was able to establish communication with them by word of mouth, and I had just enough room to maneuver while they collapsed two of the cornices to make the extraction possible. The rest was standard extraction procedure, executed meticulously and in good humor.

Jun, Daren, Matt, Rob and the helicopter pilot whose name escapes me: words cannot express my gratitude. Ermanno, too: you made all the difference.

I will not moralize: draw your own lesson; level your criticism. Coulda, shoulda, woulda.

tdd

PS. In case you wonder: yesterday I had a splendid day at Blackcomb. The plan had been to ski mostly inbounds, in view of the heat—and so we did. Husume and one of the Poop Chutes are trashed by big slides. But inbound single & double blacks skied very nicely until about 2pm when the heat took over.

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yukon222
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PostSun May 13, 2012 5:08 am 
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Wow, what a scary but amazing adventure.  So glad you weren't injured.  A day to remember, that is for sure!!
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treeswarper
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PostSun May 13, 2012 5:48 am 
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Scary.  A friend tells a story of "playing" on Rainier.  There was a crevasse and they thought about roping up and going down into it.  While they were thinking, it closed up!  Scary things.  eek.gif

Glad you survived, unhurt.

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What's especially fun about sock puppets is that you can make each one unique and individual, so that they each have special characters. And they don't have to be human––animals and aliens are great possibilities
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John Mac
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PostSun May 13, 2012 5:58 am 
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Just wasn't your day to go!

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How miserable are the idle hours of the ignorant man. Ariosto
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RichP
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PostSun May 13, 2012 6:46 am 
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twodogdad wrote:

All in a day's work for these guys.

Seriously Niko, we have some more trips to do when you decide to take those skis off for the season.
I am really glad that you are OK.
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Ancient Ambler
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PostSun May 13, 2012 7:08 am 
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Thanks for the extremely vivid depiction, both narratively and photographically, of your predicament.  I am so glad this ended so well for you.
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Scrooge
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PostSun May 13, 2012 7:32 am 
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Thanks, TDD. An outstanding report on an almost incredible situation. Your luck on every count borders on the miraculous. Glad you're safe.

I have no criticism, at all. Doing what we do, we must accept some risk. You were minimizing yours, but the accident happened anyway.


Don't knock those crevasse pics, Nikolai. I'm envious. All I ever managed was shots
from the top. ...... Still, if you decide not to continue your series, I'll understand.
        rolleyes.gif

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zephyr
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PostSun May 13, 2012 7:44 am 
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TDD,
Among all the stories and close calls that we share here, this one is going to be hard to top.  Other than the fact that you fell in, you were so very fortunate with regards to your predicament and the outcome.  How lucky you were.  I admire your equanimity in the face of disaster and ability to actually experience the beauty of the crevasse while waiting for rescue.  It shows your appreciation of the natural world that you were able to record the experience for others with your photos.  This very intense relationship with Nature is probably one of the main motivators for your outdoor trips like so many of us. 
'Glad that you are uninjured and able to see more of the wonders around us.   up.gif   All the best.  ~z
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Stefan-K
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PostSun May 13, 2012 7:52 am 
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holy crap man!  you are one lucky dog... and rather eloquent on TV after all that.  But - - I do hope you've learned something, which is to say please don't let that happen again, OK?  Cats only have nine lives you know... and you're a dog man.
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forest gnome
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PostSun May 13, 2012 8:16 am 
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I was lucky enough to live in whistler for 4 yrs . starting in 97...I was also lucky to survive my 2-3 very close calls...and learn ski mtnr.ing from some amazing people....

great outcome, it's big back there when going solo.... hockeygrin.gif
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seawallrunner
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PostSun May 13, 2012 8:19 am 
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So glad you are alive and well - thx for posting your photos!

Here is an account from one of the SARs, which I found on ClubTread

SAR story and photos
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Slugman
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PostSun May 13, 2012 8:39 am 
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Holy cow, what a story.  eek.gif  The ending was the best part.  wink.gif   How on earth did you retain your composure? I would venture to guess that news organizations would love that picture of you right after it happened. It tells the story, you are worried, you have just received a major jolt, but you are not panicking, you are not in shock. The thoughts you expressed here, am I OK, how soon will Ermanno realize what happened, can I get out, they are visible right on your face. That picture has something that couldn't be consciously duplicated.

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“The jerking motion of a knee does not reflect the operation of a mind”  Slugman, January 24th 2020
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grannyhiker
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PostSun May 13, 2012 8:43 am 
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Wow, what a story!  Perhaps the close call of at least the decade, if not longer!   I'm glad you survived intact!

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May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.--E.Abbey
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Bedivere
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PostSun May 13, 2012 8:50 am 
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Niko - I am so glad to hear you're okay!  What a story!  A good reminder that caution should be the order of the day when out in the BC and even then sometimes it's not enough.

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touron
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PostSun May 13, 2012 8:54 am 
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Incredible story!  Glad you are in good health.  Three cheers for the SAR folks. up.gif  up.gif  up.gif

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Touron is a nougat of Arabic origin made with almonds and honey or sugar, without which it would just not be Christmas in Spain.
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