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Author Topic: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival  (Read 191595 times)
Amar Andalkar
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May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« on: 05/07/08, 10:56 PM »

Summary: The Fuhrer Thumb is a beautiful ski line. But summit fever can get you in deadly serious trouble in the blink of an eye. Whiteouts and high winds at 14000 feet can suddenly leave you in a desperate survival situation. Steam caves in the crater are disgustingly humid, but better than freezing to death out in the open. And sometimes you are lucky enough to survive your stupidity, maybe even learn from your mistakes, and live to ski another day.

I hope that by sharing this story, I can help myself digest one of the most powerful experiences of my life, and also give others some insight about what to do and what to avoid in a dire survival situation atop a big mountain.


NOTE: All photos are thumbnails, click to enlarge . . .
   
Fuhrer Thumb and Finger area,
with our ascent route in blue.
   
Zoomed view with a better angle of the Fuhrer Thumb.

Details: We set off to ski the Fuhrer Thumb on the south side of Mount Rainier, a nicely steep couloir of 40-45 degrees, narrower but with a more sustained fall-line than its better-known neighbor the Fuhrer Finger. The forecast called for mostly sunny skies and 7500-8000 ft freezing levels on both Sunday and Monday, so we planned a one-day push overnight with light packs. We registered just before the Jackson Visitor Center closed at 6pm on Sunday May 4, with the park rangers remarking at our lack of gear, but trusting that with 40 Rainier summits between the two of us, we knew what we were doing. We started skinning uphill at 9pm, hoping to summit (9000+ ft of gain) in about 12 hours + nap breaks. We ascended the Nisqually on skis to about 7600 ft and eventually switched to booting with crampons as the slopes steepened and became hard-frozen near the Wilson Glacier. Routefinding through the one major crevassed area was complicated somewhat by the new moon and near-total darkness, but this area is easily avoided by heading up a gentler ramp to its right (if you can see). Yet the dark night sky was also brilliant with stars, and punctuated several times by the brief blazes of meteors. We reached the foot of the Thumb at 10200 ft at 3am and took a lengthy sitting nap break under a rock overhang, at the base of a steep cliff on the couloir's right side, just a few feet from the small bergschrund marking the head of Wilson Glacier.

   
Starting up the Fuhrer Thumb just above our nap spot,
with the Wilson Glacier bergschrund just to the left.
   
Steep views down the Thumb, with Mt St Helens in the distance.

We awoke at dawn to find unexpectedly gray skies and thick high clouds, but despite the weather concerns we eventually started up the steep slopes of the Thumb at 6am. Snow conditions were a mix of nice supportive crust perfect for cramponing and arduous breakable crust, causing postholes up to a foot deep. We each climbed using Whippets on our ski poles (two for me, one for my partner), and the single ice axe we'd each brought stayed on our packs throughout the climb. Above the top of the Thumb (11400 ft), we continued directly up the eastern edge of Wapowety Cleaver, avoiding the eastward traverse onto the Nisqually Glacier which looks quite broken up around 12000 ft, with crevasse navigation issues likely. The downside of choosing the crevasse-free Wapowety is that there are several sections of steep 50-55 degree sidehill snow slopes from 12200-12500 ft, which are arduous and exposed in spots, perched above rocky cliffs with a long drop down onto the Nisqually. In the midst of these steep sections the weather worsened around 9am, with light snowfall, gusty winds, and a large lenticular cloud enveloping the entire summit plateau. We took another break on a small flat spot near 12300 ft, which turned into a long nap for my ski partner after we debated whether to just pull the plug and ski down. We decided to at least wait a bit and see, and the weather did improve within a couple of hours, brightening to mostly sunny skies and much lighter winds with only wispy fragments of the lenticular remaining. I fired up the Jetboil to make about 2.5 liters of water, easily enough to see us through to the top. So at noon we headed upward once more, hoping to polish off the last 1900 vertical to reach 14158 ft Point Success, the second highest of Rainier's three 14000 ft peaks, in a couple of hours.

Map of routes:
Gray: Our ascent route; the switchbacks on the Nisqually are very approximate in location and number.
Red: My initial ski route and subsequent reascent to the crater rim (also approximate).
Green: Travels around the crater rim the next morning.
Blue: My ski descent from the rim to rejoin the ascent route, the rest of the ski descent followed the ascent route.

The next 200 vert above our nap spot were the steepest of the entire route, and we split the exhausting post-holing duties, diagonaling up the sun-softened slopes. Atop the flat summit of Wapowety Cleaver at 13000 ft, we took another break to switch back to skins, since the slopes above were not very steep and it looked to be no problem to skin all the way to Point Success. We zigzagged left and right through a field of large crevasses, but by 13400 ft the powdery snow atop a firm crust on the upper Nisqually Glacier was making skinning difficult for my partner. She switched to booting on foot and headed more directly towards Point Success, while I continued skinning a switchbacking track with ski crampons providing occasional support. My last glimpse of her was just after 2pm, as I headed out of sight around a minor rib on a long rightward switchback. The weather remained mostly sunny with light winds as I made the final leftward switchback, and I snapped a photo of Point Success from about 200 yards away along the ridge at 2:40pm.

   
Hard work ascending the steepest part
of the route on Wapowety Cleaver.
   
The last bit of ridge to Point Success, still mostly sunny at 2:40pm.

Six minutes later, I stood atop the peak in a sudden whiteout and strong gusty winds. The temperature was 14 F, winds 30+ mph from the west, and my altimeter read 14220 (+62 error). There was nowhere to hide from the elements atop the narrow summit crest, so I stood with my back to the wind and waited. And waited. Occasionally shapes which looked like human form, complete with skis on pack, appeared through the mist along the ridge to the east, and I yelled my partner's name each time, but in vain as all turned out to be illusions in the drifting fog. Wind-driven rime was rapidly coating my pack and clothing, so I switched over to ski mode and skied back down my skin track after about 20 minutes atop the peak. I assumed my ski partner must have turned around when the winds and whiteout hit, and I thought that I'd be able to ski down and cross paths with her soon. Little did I know that my friend would arrive only minutes later atop the ridge to find my skin track leading to an empty summit, and a partner who had abandoned her.



Things got much worse from here. My skin track down the ridge was rapidly filling with wind-driven snow, and following it down became impossible, as visibility for snow features was less than 10 ft. I navigated by altimeter and dead-reckoning, trying to hold a 14060+ contour (including a mental correction for altimeter error) which would put me at the saddle separating Point Success from the summit craters, and from which I could easily ski down the fall line to intersect my ascent route. Unfortunately, I made a nearly-catastrophic navigational error. I held a contour just a bit too low, probably only 20 vertical feet low, but that's hundreds of feet of horizontal error in the flat featureless vicinity of the saddle. The distance I had skied was hard to gauge in the whiteout and strong tailwind pushing me along. I suddenly halted as a dark black feature appeared about 50 feet to my right. What?!? I realized that I must have overshot the saddle and was now on the uppermost Tahoma Glacier, standing just below a gaping bergschrund. The sudden fear and panic of being lost in an unknown field of crevasses in a whiteout was gripping me. I pulled my seldom-used compass out of the bottom of my pack, turned 180, and began following my track back away from the crevasses. It was painfully ironic to know that my two GPS units were sitting warm and dry at home while I was lost and freezing in a whiteout at 14000 ft. At least I had a nice waterproof topo map of the summit region, and could attempt to navigate by compass.

I eventually found the 14000+ ft saddle (or is it really closer to 14040 ft?), an extremely windswept spot marked by numerous exposed rocks. The west wind was now about 40-50 mph, and I spotted a small snow-cave like shelter, about the volume of an office desk. I considered crawling inside for relief from the wind, but nearly an hour had already passed since I left Point Success. I decided it would be best to simply ski across the saddle and try to descend the Nisqually to reach our ascent track, and hopefully reunite with my ski partner. I thought the winds might ease on the opposite side of the saddle, but they didn't. I continued downhill to about 13900 ft, pushed from behind by the relentless wind as I held a wide snowplow stance to maintain walking speed, and unable to see much beyond my ski tips. The fear of plunging into a gaping crevasse, the same ones I had switchbacked around during the ascent, was overpowering me. I stopped and sat down. I knew that I was in very serious trouble, and for the first time in my life, realized that I might actually freeze to death, my life thrown away uselessly, lost in a featureless plain surrounded by crevasses which I could not see.

There had to be a way out, I couldn't die here. I pulled out my cell phone, thankfully warm in an inside pocket and switched off to preserve its battery, and discovered upon turning it on that I had 2-3 bars of signal. I tried the MRNP number at 4:15pm, but couldn't connect. Next, 911, and it went through! Such a relief. I explained my location and predicament in great detail, several times to make sure that elevation and position had been recorded correctly, and the operator told me to stay put and that Mt Rainier National Park would call me back. Then nothing for a while, so I called my ski partner's phone, connecting to her voicemail after 3 attempts and leaving a detailed message with my location, apologizing for my foolish summit fever which had put us in this situation, and wishing that she was doing well. I then saw that I had new voicemail, and discovered a message: "Amar, this is David Gottlieb, climbing ranger at Mount Rainier. My number is 360-569-2211 x6028. Get back to us. Talk to you soon. OK, bye." I had met David a couple of times at high camps, and even remembered talking with him in July 1999 at Camp Schurman about the various routes he had skied. At least the rangers knew about my dire predicament, including the detailed location info I had given 911 (or so I thought at the time: it turns out they did not get the 911 recording, and the only info they got from 911 was that I was at "15000 ft on Mount Rainier". Ridiculous.) Over the next day, I would make a total of 49 cell phone call attempts, including 30+ to MRNP, several to voicemail, and several to another friend hoping that he could contact the park. Of that, only these 3 successfully connected, all between 4:15 and 4:30pm on May 5. By turning the phone off between each set of 3-4 call attempts and keeping it warm with body heat, I still had about 2/3 battery life remaining afterwards.

I thought about my ski partner a lot, probably caught just like me somewhere out in the storm. The decisions we had made beforehand about gear and going lightweight, the way we had pushed each other onward and upward when either of us had lagged, and my final overwhelming push and desire to summit, even when it was clear that she was much more tired than me and just wanted to turn around and ski back down. She's the best and most inspiring ski partner I've ever met, and I knew that I had let her down.

But the immediate issue was hypothermia, and worse, severe frostbite or actually freezing to death. I'm not very tolerant of cold at all, with poor circulation in the extremities, and I doubted that I could survive an exposed bivy with minimal gear at 13900 ft, in 40-50 mph winds with temperatures dropping below 10F overnight. My clothing consisted of top/bottom lightweight Capilene long underwear, soft-shell pants (REI Acme), and microfleece top (TNF Aurora). Insulation included a thick fleece vest, a newly-bought hooded puffy (Montbell Thermawrap Parka), and my super-warm Feathered Friends Volant down jacket with hood (still inside my pack). Shells consisted of Arc'teryx Theta SK bib pants and an Arc'teryx Alpha LT jacket. And thankfully, I did have lots of gloves and hats: 2 fleece hats, a fleece helmet liner, a thin balaclava, OR Alti Mitts (heavily insulated and waterproof, with insulated liner), OR Couloir ski gloves (insulated waterproof), OR Omni gloves, and 2 pairs of OR PL 100 liner gloves. A lot of clothing for sure, but not enough for me to survive overnight in that situation unless I kept moving or found shelter from the wind.

There were only two options: descend the climbing route as best I could and hope to drop below the whiteout before falling in a crevasse, or climb back up to the crater rim and try to find a steam cave to bivy inside of. I tried option 1, trying at first to slowly ski down but realizing that I would have to switch to cramponing on foot. This would reduce the risk of skiing into a gaping crevasse, but greatly increase the risk of plunging into a hidden one. Around 13800 ft, I decided to turn around and climb back up, 400+ vertical to the rim. I headed due north, hoping to reach the Nisqually bergschrund, and then traverse rightward along it to a safe-enough crossing, providing access to the crater rim. I reached the schrund at 5:30, a huge opening about 20-30 ft high, with enough room for many to camp inside, but the wind was whipping through its length and powdery snow was flying everywhere. So traverse along it I did, and as expected it narrowed farther eastward, eventually becoming only a foot or two wide with numerous snow bridges across it. I crawled across one of them, and I could see exposed rocks just beyond. At least I was now safe, but it was time to get warm and fast.


The bergschrund at the head of the Nisqually Glacier.

I reached the crater rim around 6:20pm, a bit over 14200 ft, and immediately found an entrance leading to a large steam cave. I descended 15 ft into a first chamber, large but barely tall enough to stand up in, and then slithered and crawled through 3-4 ft high passages another 20 feet down, reaching an excellent large chamber with several hot fumaroles along one side and a steep passage angling directly back up to the surface about 30 ft above, providing a welcome glimpse of daylight without letting too much weather inside. Definitely home for the night, and maybe much longer if the weather did not improve. I went back to the surface to retrieve my gear and planted my skis in an X outside the entrance, hoping that any climbing parties that might reach the rim the next morning would see it.

   
The steam cave just inside the crater rim,
looking down the first entrance.
   
The interior of the upper part of the steam cave.

I set up the Jetboil to melt snow for water, but within seconds I had tipped it over, dousing its flame completely and unable to relight it due to all the snow packed into the burner. This was a potential disaster: without a way to make liquid water, I would probably get hypothermia if I kept eating snow even within the relatively warm (almost freezing) steam cave. But then an idea: I filled the Jetboil cup with snow, put the lid on, and sat it against the hottest nearby fumarole. This one sounded like a camping stove, hissing out a powerful jet of steam and gas which was intolerably hot to the touch and thankfully nearly odorless. I suspected its temperature was close to the boiling point of water, about 185 F at 14000 ft. I knew that volcanic gases typically include H2O, CO2 (carbon dioxide), SO2 (sulfur dioxide), CO (carbon monoxide), and H2S (hydrogen sulfide). The latter three are all poisonous, with CO being odorless and thus quite insidious, SO2 having a noticeable pungent smell, and H2S with a noxious rotten eggs smell, so prevalent on other Cascade volcanoes such as Mt Baker and Mt Hood. I knew that this fumarole had almost none of the stinky sulfurous gases, and hoped that any CO would be minimal to avoid any effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.

NOTE: Exceeded maximum allowed length of 20000 characters, so split and continued in next post . . .

« Last Edit: 05/10/08, 08:41 AM by Amar Andalkar » Logged

Amar Andalkar
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Posts: 1231


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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Surv
« Reply #1 on: 05/07/08, 10:56 PM »

Within a few minutes, the snow had melted in the Jetboil cup, and 15-20 minutes produced half-liter quantities of water as hot as tea. I was stoked: As miserably wet and humid as the cave was, I had found a source of both unlimited warmth and unlimited hot water at the summit of Mount Rainier. I knew I could survive for days if necessary with no fear of either hypothermia or dehydration. But food was another story: a quick inventory revealed only 1 pack of 4 Nutter Butter cookies (250 cal), 1 pack M&Ms peanut (250 cal), 1 pack M&Ms plain (240 cal), 1 Chewy Dipps granola bar (140 cal), 1 Chewy granola bar (100 cal), and 1 Kudos bar (100 cal) = 1080 calories. I decided not to eat any of it that night, saving it all for the next day. Although I knew I needed food, especially after the exertion of climbing nearly 10000 vertical feet in the past 21 hours, for some reason I was just not very hungry.

Also, I realized with relief that I felt no discernible effects from the altitude. I've always felt so lucky that I handle altitude better than most people, and in numerous previous trips from sea level to 14000+ feet in under 24 hours, I had never once experienced any altitude-related illness. I'm very fortunate in that regard, and the majority of people would experience some symptoms of AMS for sure under a forced bivy at 14000 ft less than a day after leaving sea level, with HAPE or HACE a real possibility for a smaller fraction.

So darkness came and I cuddled up next to the fumarole, still always brewing another batch of hot water in the Jetboil cup and making sure to drink plenty. I tried turning my headlamp off at first, but realized that I needed the small comfort of being able to see around me in such an alien environment and so I kept it on most of the rest of the night. LED headlamps are great, I knew I had dozens of hours of battery life remaining. My clothes were already soaked, as the rate of condensation on any exposed surface was the most rapid I've ever seen. Any object would be dripping wet within a minute or less. Nevertheless, being hot and damp was much better than cold and damp, and so I kept rotating various sides of my body close to the fumarole, using my crampon bag as a deflector to reduce or re-aim the stream of hot gases in a needed direction. When my feet got cold inside my ski boots, I could just place them directly atop the fumarole and they'd be back warm within 10-15 minutes.

I was wearing all my clothes except the down jacket, which I tried to carefully preserve inside its Sil-Nylon stuffsack within my pack. The down would be useless within the steam cave environment, rapidly turning into a heavy sodden mess, but it might be essential to my survival the next day outside on the mountain and so I had to keep it dry. Despite the heat from the fumarole, I shivered constantly through most of the night, with relief usually only for a few minutes after drinking a cup of hot water. My hands stayed nicely warm and dry for several hours inside the insulated waterproof Alti Mitts, but eventually they soaked through too and my fingers soon looked like prunes.


My soaking wet fingers the next morning.

I slept fitfully, mostly not well at all, and had my longest nap from 4am to 5:30. I awoke on Tuesday May 6 to a shocking surprise: there was daylight visible out through the opening of the cave! Given the forecast for deteriorating weather throughout the week, I could not believe my good luck. With nice weather, I thought that climbers and especially guided parties would certainly be reaching the rim shortly. I planned to ask them for food and for assistance in descending via whatever route they had climbed. I also probably needed some dry clothes, since my sodden garments would quickly freeze into a stiff suit of armor outside in the expected 10 F cold.


Looking up the second entrance from home sweet home.

It took me forever to get ready, eat some of my food, and prepare to go outside. I shook out my wet outer layers, donned the mercifully still-dry down jacket, and climbed out to the surface just after 7am. Partly sunny, cold but not too cold, and winds light, W 10-15 mph, with visibility past Mt Adams.


WOW. The crater rim in the morning.

I realized that my cave was about 100 yards west of where the normal climbing routes reach the low point in the crater rim, so it was important to leave a message over there for the climbers who would surely be arriving shortly. So I walked over to the low point, which was marked with 2 wands, and scratched out the words, "Help! 100 yds west", in a smooth patch of snow with my ski pole. I also moved my crossed skis from the original cave entrance to the second entrance, which was closer to the low point. I tried several more cell phone call attempts to MRNP, to no avail. As expected, my outer layers had frozen stiff in the cold air, so I retreated to the steam cave to thaw them out.


Looking down into my cave, with the west part of the East Crater rim in the distance.

By 9am it was time to head back out again. I thought for sure that climbers must be getting up there already, but in any case I decided that I'd walk around the inside of the crater rim and try to place cell phone calls in each different direction, hoping to get a stronger signal. To avoid the hazard of accidentally falling into thinly snow-covered steam cave entrances, it is best not to walk too close to the inside of the rim, so I walked in arcs passing through the middle of the crater and connecting to points on the east and north rims, and forcefully probed with both ski poles just in case. The floor of the crater was scoured to bare blue glacial ice in many spots, cut in a couple places by thin, 6-12" wide snow-filled cracks that were deeper than I could probe.

Each time I reached the rim, still no luck with the cell. By now, I was almost at Columbia Crest, the true 14411 ft summit of Mt Rainier. I walked over to the summit register, located in a steaming area of fumarolic bare ground just below the summit, and thumbed through the old entries. The last entries were from April 17, and before that from autumn of 2007. At 9:50am, I added my own lengthy page, describing what had happened and my worries about my ski partner and about how I would make it down. I climbed up to the Crest, took in the grand views once again, and made several more unsuccessful cell attempts.


Columbia Crest, with the West Crater rim beyond.

The day was becoming gloriously warm and sunny, with winds dropping to nearly calm and temps rising to near 20 F. Nothing at all like the NWS forecast. My clothes were drying on my body, and I felt really good despite the lack of food and sleep, with no ill effects from the previous day's exertion. So I decided to set myself a deadline: if no climbers or helicopter had appeared by noon, I would simply ski down the upper Nisqually to rejoin our ascent route, and ski the Thumb as originally planned. I hoped that by noon, the snow on the steepest parts of Wapowety Cleaver (50-55 degree SE facing slopes) would be softened enough to hold an edge. If I could get past that crux safely in my probably somewhat weakened condition, the rest of the run down the Thumb and Wilson Glacier would be cake in any snow conditions, even if parts were still breakable crust.

At 10:45am, I headed back across the crater to my cave, and carefully repacked all my gear. Everything was disgustingly wet, and much of it covered in a muddy hydrothermally-altered clay which forms the soil within the steam caves. I melted and drank a final liter of water, and planned to eat snow as needed to stay hydrated during the ski descent. If everything went well, I should be able to ski out to Paradise in about 2 hrs, even including the short climb back up to Glacier Vista.


12:10 pm: My pack and gear are all back at the surface, with skis still crossed above the cave entrance.

By noon I was back out on the surface with my pack and gear, making final preparations to ski down. But wait - - - I heard a helicopter! And there it was, climbing upwards towards the rim from far below me. It quickly approached and circled around me twice, as I waved a single hand to let them know I was OK. I assumed that it would land in the crater, but then it took off down the mountain, so I thought that maybe the rangers think I'm OK and don't need a ride. Only later would I be told that the chopper had an engine malfunction light of some sort come on, and was forced to descend without me, while MRNP staff scrambled to locate a backup chopper in case it was needed.


12:19 pm: The MRNP rescue helicopter circling around me.

So back to peace and silence on the rim. I'd had the summit all to myself for nearly a day, and still no climbers had appeared. As I prepared to click into my bindings, I noticed that the Dynafit fittings on my boots were clogged completely with mud. I used a Leatherman tool to chip the mud out of my boot fittings, which was very difficult since it appeared that the hydrothermally-altered clay had set into something as hard as plaster. Given the steepness of parts of the descent, I could take no chances with the typical Dynafit accidental pre-release bullshit, so I made sure the fittings were super clean and then locked the toes too for good measure.


Looking across at Point Success from high on the Nisqually Glacier. (Sorry, bad photo, camera was fogging up.)

I skied down the Nisqually Glacier at 12:40pm, a completely surreal feeling given the events of the previous 22 hours. I crossed the bergschrund somewhere near where I had crawled across it the evening before, and quickly located portions of the skin track of our ascent route. The 1-2 inches of new snow during the storm had been heavily windblown, and so only obscured small portions of the track. The ski down to 12500 ft was easy, albeit on an unpleasant mix of crust, windpacked powder, and a few patches of bare glacial ice. Unfortunately, the steepest parts of Wapowety Cleaver had not softened enough, and I was forced to sideslip much of the most exposed parts, using my uphill (right) Whippet as an anchor at times. The steepest step, only about 10 ft high but that had to be 55+ degrees, required sidestepping carefully while anchored with the uphill hand. And then I was safe, or so it seemed. But far below, a marine layer had filled the valleys to well over 8000 ft, and it was thickening. I hoped to avoid another whiteout on the glaciers below.


Looking down the vertiginous Fuhrer Thumb, with Wilson Glacier and the marine layer clouds far below.

The snow improved greatly below 12000 ft, becoming almost corn-like in spots. In the Fuhrer Thumb, the previous day's breakable crust had solidified enough to hold a skier's weight, and the descent was thoroughly enjoyable on a mix of edgeable crust and proto-corn. Hitting the Wilson Glacier at 10200 ft, I found the nicest snow of the day, fine spring corn on the cruising rolls down to 9000 ft and the edge of the marine layer. This whiteout was as dense as the one on the summit yesterday, but with nearly dead-calm winds and no real problems. I followed footsteps back to the Nisqually, and then the huge cattle-stampede track of a crevasse rescue class back to the moraine and Glacier Vista. Snow conditions were complete mushy glop in the whiteout, but I didn't care one bit. I had made it down off the mountain, alive and well.


Corn and ski tracks on the Wilson Glacier.

I reached the ski dorm at the edge of the parking lot at 3pm, and a single thoroughly-sodden packet of M&Ms still remained uneaten. I had survived my first major epic, and now I was desperate to make sure my ski partner had, too. To my great relief, there was a note on my car from climbing ranger Thomas Payne, informing me that she was safely off the mountain and that I should contact David Gottlieb at Longmire as soon as I got back.


The ski dorm at Paradise. Safe at last.

I drove down to Longmire, and went through a lengthy debriefing and interview process with the climbing rangers, a necessary bureaucratic process since an official search-and-rescue mission had been launched. They told me my ski partner had downclimbed the Kautz Glacier from Point Success on foot, in harrowing whiteout conditions down to 12000 ft, and then skied the Turtle back to the Nisqually Glacier and Paradise by 8:15pm the night before, and stayed at the ski dorm overnight. They said I could see her, but only after the interview and timeline of events was complete. As I was finishing my signed statement of events leading to the SAR, she finally walked in and we were both so relieved and overjoyed to see each other again, both safe and sound.



I'm not sure what will happen to me going forward from now on. It's going to take some time for me to process what happened and decide if I need to make some changes in my mountain travel habits and my degree of acceptable risk. Certainly I think the GPS is going back in my pack, for any trip of significant size. The only other thing that would have helped in the whiteout is being roped up the entire time, which is certainly worth considering for any such trips in the future.

And at least I lost some weight during the trip: From the morning of May 3 through this afternoon on May 7, my weight has decreased from 144.4 lbs to 140.0, with body fat decreasing from 14.9% to 12.3%. This equals a loss of 4.3 lbs of body fat, which would supply about 17000 calories, and luckily it appears that I managed not to burn a significant amount of muscle mass. That would have changed for sure had I been forced to spend longer up there with no more food.

Thanks to David Gottlieb, Chris Olson, Matt Hendrickson, Joe Franklin, and all the other climbing rangers and staff at MRNP who assisted in the planning and execution of my SAR mission. Although I made it down safely without assistance this time, it was only because of an unexpected lucky break in the weather, and my situation would have otherwise become increasingly desperate had the foul weather continued.

And thanks most of all to my trusty ski partner and dear friend, for forgiving me and for still wanting to go skiing with me after this. I'm so glad you got down safely. "Hey dude, where are we skiing tomorrow?"



MOUNT RAINIER RECREATIONAL FORECAST
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SEATTLE WA
345 AM PDT SUN MAY 4 2008

SYNOPSIS...AN UPPER LEVEL RIDGE WILL BUILD OVER WESTERN WASHINGTON
TODAY. SKIES WILL CLEAR AND THE AIR MASS WILL WARM TODAY. THE RIDGE
SHOULD PERSIST INTO MONDAY. ONSHORE FLOW WILL INCREASE MONDAY NIGHT
AND TUESDAY AS A WEATHER SYSTEM REACHES THE AREA. AN UPPER LEVEL
TROUGH WILL DEVELOP OVER THE REGION MIDWEEK.

                       SUN    SUN    MON    MON    TUE 
                            NIGHT         NIGHT       

SUMMIT   (14411 FT)     11     15     15     14      9
                      E  9   W 25   W 30   W 28   W 35

CAMP MUIR(10188 FT)     25     27     27     28     20
                     SE 10   W 14   W 20   W 11   W 25

SUNDAY...MOSTLY SUNNY. FREEZING LEVEL 7500 FEET.
SUNDAY NIGHT...PARTLY CLOUDY. FREEZING LEVEL 8500 FEET.
MONDAY...MOSTLY SUNNY. FREEZING LEVEL 8000 FEET.
MONDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY. FREEZING LEVEL 8000 FEET.
TUESDAY...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH SCATTERED SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 5500 FEET.
TUESDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH SCATTERED SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 4500 FEET.
WEDNESDAY AND WEDNESDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY. SCATTERED SNOW SHOWERS AND
    NUMEROUS SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 3500 FEET.
THURSDAY AND THURSDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 3500 FEET.
FRIDAY AND FRIDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY. A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 5000 FEET.


« Last Edit: 05/20/08, 08:36 AM by Amar Andalkar » Logged

Plinko
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #2 on: 05/07/08, 11:07 PM »

WOW! Glad you're safe! Incredible effort!
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Stugie
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #3 on: 05/07/08, 11:39 PM »

Way to stay calm through the ordeal.  Glad everything turned out alright again!
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Zap
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #4 on: 05/08/08, 12:26 AM »

Thanks for sharing your experience.  Roundtrips are mandatory but sometimes they're difficult. Things happen and its how we handle adversity that matters.  I am pleased to hear you're both still with us.  There are much easier ways to lose weight.  Wink
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Surv
« Reply #5 on: 05/08/08, 01:37 AM »

Amar, Great job keeping your head in such a harrowing situation!! Glad to hear that you and your partner made it out safely!!
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danhelmstadter
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #6 on: 05/08/08, 03:20 AM »

Thanks for shareing, not too many people would have known how to, or could of handled that situation. That must have been a hell of a rough night in the cave. Glad everything worked out.
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ron j
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #7 on: 05/08/08, 07:09 AM »

Amar - it takes a very special person to publicly share an experience like that and one with a very rare talent to do such a great job in sharing it.  Thank you.
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Lisa
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #8 on: 05/08/08, 07:22 AM »

What an epic!!  Glad you and Hanna managed to keep it together while being separated.  Thanks for sharing the details of your experience.  Most importantly, glad you both are ok.  What an ordeal.
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Lowell_Skoog
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #9 on: 05/08/08, 08:21 AM »

Thanks for telling your story, Amar. You've given us a lot to think about. Congratulations to both of you for getting through this ordeal so well.
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Joedabaker
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Surv
« Reply #10 on: 05/08/08, 08:40 AM »

Thanks for being able to share such an incredible event in your life! As I read your story it was hard to not try and put myself in your position and get a glimpse of the thoughts and fears you experienced. Very powerful and well written. Certainly nothing near what you and your partner experienced, but significant enough for me to always remember who's the boss in the mountains. The thoughts/guilt going on after the separation had to have been most difficult, along with what you had to do to survive yourself.
Three cheers to both of your survivals!
As Zap said, "Round trips are mandatory."
I appreciate the courage it takes to survive and more so the humility to share your experiences.
Thanks,
Joe
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #11 on: 05/08/08, 08:40 AM »

Way to get out safe Amar!!! I always remember cracking on you for having a GPS saying, "I know this place, I know exactly where we are. Follow me." Ha. And I was wrong and you were right Smiley.

Being lost in the fog is a scary deal, especially with crevasses and such. I'm glad you and hannah managed on your seperate ways.
« Last Edit: 05/08/08, 08:50 AM by Jason_H. » Logged

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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #12 on: 05/08/08, 08:51 AM »

Wow -- thanks for sharing.  Glad you both made it down safely.
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Paul_Russell
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #13 on: 05/08/08, 09:48 AM »

Quite the epic  Amar.  I'm glad you both made it out safely to tell the story! 
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Scotsman
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #14 on: 05/08/08, 10:12 AM »

Glad you and Hanna are safe. What a read. I learnt a lot reading it and congratulate you on your calm thinking and  the good decisions you made once you where in the thick of it.
Mandatory reading for all those thinking of any eary season summit attempt.
You're having an exciting spring so far!
Scotty.
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Surv
« Reply #15 on: 05/08/08, 10:32 AM »

Wow- that was a harrowing experience to say the least!  It reminded me of the John Muir story where he got stuck on the summit of Shasta and spent the night lying next to a fumarole.
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Surv
« Reply #16 on: 05/08/08, 11:04 AM »

Really glad that you're both all right

Quote
typical Dynafit accidental pre-release bullshit
Coming from someone as technically savvy as you, BOO.
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Mad_Dog
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #17 on: 05/08/08, 12:08 PM »

Amar, thanks for sharing your story, glad that you and Hanna made it off the mountain fine.  Good job keeping yourself focused.
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Surv
« Reply #18 on: 05/08/08, 12:40 PM »

Amar, first I am happy everyone made it off safe and sound.

Because I have heard so many reports of cell phone utility up high in our mountains, I was surprised that yours worked so intermittently apparently considering what appeared to be a good signal and connectivity.  Of greatest value would have been to communicate with your partner once you had split up and then sought to contact her.  Probably even more important than the ability to contact mountain rescue.  The reason I say that is my guess that had you been able to rejoin your partner in a timely manner the outcome would have been very different.  Partly because of joint decision making and partly because time would not have been lost seeking each other out.

I am curious as to who carries radios on similar outings.  I am sure they carry their own problems as well.

Glad you are healthy and hope that you get back up on the horse soon.

Alan
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Pandora
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #19 on: 05/08/08, 12:41 PM »

I'm just pissed that Amar got to ski the Thumb and I didn't!  Wink

Hannah
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gregL
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #20 on: 05/08/08, 01:01 PM »

Compelling reading, Amar, thanks. Glad you both made it down. Who's your cell phone provider?
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jd
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #21 on: 05/08/08, 01:23 PM »

Thanks for a gripping story, and reminder to watch it out there. Climb/ski at this level for many years and an epic of some kind is inevitable. It often starts with what in retrospect is a mistake (pushing hard for the summit past your partner in this case) but how you handle it is what counts in the end and you and your partner obviously managed quite well. Epics are very worthwhile to remind us of the power of the mountains, the fickleness of fate, and how tough and resourceful we can be when up against it. Thanks for putting yourself out there and sharing it so we can all learn (or relearn) the lesson vicariously. You are a diehard photographer to keep documenting the experience!

Buddha told a parable in a sutra:

"A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Two mice, one white and one black, little by little began to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. He plucked the berry with one hand. How sweet it tasted!"

You and your partner should share a big bowl.

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Amar Andalkar
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Surv
« Reply #22 on: 05/08/08, 01:27 PM »

Thanks everyone for the kind words and support.


I'm just pissed that Amar got to ski the Thumb and I didn't!  Wink

Hannah

 Grin Grin Grin Grin


Who's your cell phone provider?

Sprint, and the phone is a Sanyo Katana, which is a tri-mode phone capable of operating on both digital and analog networks. However, the nationwide analog cell phone network was shut down on Feb 18, 2008, and so this essential service was lost to the public (see e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Mobile_Phone_System for more info). In many remote areas, the only cell networks which one could connect to were analog prior to the shutdown, and so these locations now have no cell service at all.

Strangely enough, a couple of times in my journey around the crater rim, my phone did show "Analog Roam" as the only network it was receiving. Not sure why an analog network was still transmitting, but in any case no calls were connected.


I am curious as to who carries radios on similar outings.  I am sure they carry their own problems as well.

I've considered buying a set of two-way radios more times than I can count. They're so cheap, I might as well buy a pair and bring them along. The main thing stopping me thus far is that all the nice, compact ones seem to use proprietary battery packs, while I'd much prefer something which uses AA batteries since I carry those anyway for camera, GPS, etc. Any recommendations?


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korup
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Surv
« Reply #23 on: 05/08/08, 02:04 PM »

Wow Amar, quite an epic. Glad you made it through fine. You've had a rather "spicy" few weeks! How many people can say they've spent a night in a steam cave??

I've had multiple trips where two-way radios would have made an enormous difference; probably worth the weight.
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savegondor
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Surv
« Reply #24 on: 05/08/08, 02:19 PM »

My two-way talkabout radios have the 'proprietary' batteries...but these can be taken out and replaced with simple AA, which I frequently do. 

All my friends with similiar radios can do this too. 

I'll add my bit of opinion:  Yes, an epic.  I'm grateful to get to share your experience.  It was 'awesome' in the older sense of the english word: full of awe.  Also, good narrative style.

-Jayme

Thanks everyone for the kind words and support.


 Grin Grin Grin Grin


Sprint, and the phone is a Sanyo Katana, which is a tri-mode phone capable of operating on both digital and analog networks. However, the nationwide analog cell phone network was shut down on Feb 18, 2008, and so this essential service was lost to the public (see e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Mobile_Phone_System for more info). In many remote areas, the only cell networks which one could connect to were analog prior to the shutdown, and so these locations now have no cell service at all.

Strangely enough, a couple of times in my journey around the crater rim, my phone did show "Analog Roam" as the only network it was receiving. Not sure why an analog network was still transmitting, but in any case no calls were connected.


I've considered buying a set of two-way radios more times than I can count. They're so cheap, I might as well buy a pair and bring them along. The main thing stopping me thus far is that all the nice, compact ones seem to use proprietary battery packs, while I'd much prefer something which uses AA batteries since I carry those anyway for camera, GPS, etc. Any recommendations?



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