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Author Topic: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival  (Read 126531 times)
Mr.Doober
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Surv
« Reply #75 on: 05/11/08, 10:02 AM »

Amar,
Thanks for sharing, and as everyone else has said, I'm glad you both made it out unscathed. One thing that came to mind, and that you have only mentioned in passing was wands:

"they had summited via Ingraham Direct, and the route is now well-wanded, but still has several sketchy crevasse crossings and the guides think it may not go much longer"

I have been up Rainier a few times, and even in mid summer with ideal weather conditions, I carry and use wands, unless I am traveling on a previously wanded route. They really help establishing landmarks where there are none, mark creavasses, turns, etc. GPS, radios, cell phones are all great, but on a big mountain, a compass, mechanical altimeter and wands are the only things that you can count on. I also make notes on waterproof paper on longer routes, even multiday routes, leaving a wand at key spots along the way....breadcrumbs in the forest (flagging tape works well in the woods) so I can find my way home. Many feel that wands are big, bulky and a pain in the ass. I think even a half dozen well placed wands could have made your ordeal much less of one. Many a time I have felt great relief at seeing the wand I was searching for on my way back down after the weather changes or was never that good in the first place.

That's my 2 cents worth, and again, thanks for sharing your story and getting this discussion going.
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normanclyde
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Surv
« Reply #76 on: 05/11/08, 11:38 AM »

Hey Amar.  Thanks for sharing a gripping account of your ordeal.  Well managed.  Hats off to you and Hannah for getting down safely.
I think even a half dozen well placed wands could have made your ordeal much less of one. Many a time I have felt great relief at seeing the wand I was searching for on my way back down after the weather changes or was never that good in the first place.
I sometimes carry wands, but my experience with them on Rainier's summit plateau in a cloud cap was that, in order to rely on wands to find your way down to safety, you'd need in excess of a hundred.  I could not see the wands we placed until they were about 20 feet away.  If they had been easier to see, by definition they would have been unnecessary.  I agree they can help, but not when things get really tough, unless you're traveling expedition style.
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powscraper
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #77 on: 05/11/08, 12:20 PM »

At the risk of beating a dead horse...
Wands and compasses are themselves technologies in a certain sense.  But perhaps what people really mean when they say 'technology' is 'electronics' or 'it takes batteries.'
GPS is simply a 20th century version of wands and a compass.  The two methods need not be mutually exclusive, but in my opinion one of them has the potential to be far more effective in whiteout conditions, should you end up in that situation.  Personally I'm making a mental note to never leave the handy little bugger behind any time I'm heading above treeline in questionable weather, based both upon my own experiences and this one.  Not because I need it, nor because I plan to depend on it, but because it can give me information in a way that nothing else can, in the worst weather conditions.
But certainly that's not a complete, nor the only, retrospective armchair solution to the whole story here.  I could also just try my best not to get whited-out, which has mostly worked so far.
« Last Edit: 05/11/08, 03:30 PM by ash_j » Logged
Amar Andalkar
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Surv
« Reply #78 on: 05/11/08, 02:22 PM »

Thanks everyone for the continued kind words, support, and ongoing discussion. There is much to learn from all of it.


Wow -4.3lbs of body fat in a couple of days.  I think you'll be invited on Oprah, and shortly after that we'll be seeing a rash of celebrities on the "Amazing Amar Fumarale Diet". 

So glad you both survived!  What a great story - I agree with many others - your writing is gripping, and I think it's publishable.  Very inspiring in that what you lacked in gear you made up for with knowledge and good instincts.  Thanks for sharing it with us.
Don

Most of those who know me well are aware that I've had a fairly serious weight-gain issue for the past decade. There's a fat couch potato trapped within my body, just waiting for another chance to get out. Any major reduction in my frequency of ski mountaineering or hiking trips or other exercise, while eating a normal diet, results in rapid weight gain as fast as 5-10 lbs per month which continues until I reach my body's natural setpoint of 165-170 lbs (at 5' 7" height), after which it semi-stabilizes and only slowly increases further. As recently as Thanksgiving 2006, I weighed 170 lbs, and I managed to lose 30 lbs in 30 weeks through late June 2007 by a combination of a very severe diet (often 1 meal per day, sometimes salad only, at 5pm, plus fruit for snacks) from January to April followed by lots of big ski mountaineering trips from May onward. I don't think Oprah or her viewers could benefit much from either that diet plan or the new steam cave plan. Wink Obviously, I'd advise no one to attempt either of them.


I have been up Rainier a few times, and even in mid summer with ideal weather conditions, I carry and use wands, unless I am traveling on a previously wanded route. They really help establishing landmarks where there are none, mark creavasses, turns, etc. GPS, radios, cell phones are all great, but on a big mountain, a compass, mechanical altimeter and wands are the only things that you can count on. I also make notes on waterproof paper on longer routes, even multiday routes, leaving a wand at key spots along the way....breadcrumbs in the forest (flagging tape works well in the woods) so I can find my way home. Many feel that wands are big, bulky and a pain in the ass. I think even a half dozen well placed wands could have made your ordeal much less of one. Many a time I have felt great relief at seeing the wand I was searching for on my way back down after the weather changes or was never that good in the first place.

Thanks for mentioning this. I've actually never used wands myself, although I have been on a couple of Rainier climbs long ago where party members did bring them. There are two major reasons I don't even consider using wands: first and foremost, they are incompatible with ski ascents and ski descents. It is not easy to place wands efficiently during a ski ascent (since both hands are holding poles, not one hand free as on foot with an axe). And there is no way to retrieve wands during a ski descent, so no point in carrying them unless you are planning to abandon your wands in place (i.e. create mountain trash and have to replace them after every single trip). Obviously, the situation is totally different while on foot.

The second major reason is that they are incompatible with 2-person rope teams or unroped travel. It is only feasible to place wands every rope length apart at most, so you can always find the next one in a whiteout, and even then you'd need several hundred to navigate a major glacier route. But rope lengths vary: for a 2-person team on a 37 m (120 ft) glacier rope, the two people would be roped only 40 ft apart and carrying the rest in two 40 ft coils. There's no way you could ever carry enough wands in that case. If unroped (i.e. solo or not bringing a rope), then the wands would have had to be about 20 feet apart at most for me to have successfully navigated this particular whiteout. I'm not sure where I could have placed a half-dozen wands to help me out, and since I was never planning to ski down the skin track exactly, I would have been abandoning them. The "digital wands" (full track and waypoints on a GPS) are far superior to real wands in these cases, and the only realistic choice for ski descents and 2-person or solo travel. Wands are certainly a good option for rope teams of 3 or more, travelling on foot.


The question is about something not discussed yet.  How did you know the fumarole (or any fumarole) would be safe to stay in despite the absence of odor?  We all know stories of people weathering storms in them, and people dying in them.  Personally, I would have been too concerned about carbon monoxide poisoning to allow myself the lifesaving option you alertedly chose.  Your knowledge of fumaroles is far greater than mine, so I'm interested to know.

I've read and researched extensively about steam caves and fumaroles since at least 2002, and this knowledge was certainly useful to me. I'd read that only the West Crater steam caves contained some H2S gas, but even so not enough to be harmful. In both craters, SO2 is almost undetectable, while CO levels are generally minimal and CO2 never even close to high enough to cause suffocation. In fact, the one comprehensive gas analysis ever done in the caves (see 2000 paper below) found that the air within the caves was almost identical in composition to ambient air outside, with volcanic gases significant only right at the fumaroles. The same paper states that the two craters of Mt Rainier "contain the world’s largest volcanic ice-cave system."

But I wasn't thinking at all about those scientific papers when I was desperately seeking shelter from the wind this time. I just assumed the steam cave I found was safe to enter because I have never heard of anyone being harmed or dying in Rainier's steam caves (does anyone know of an incident?), and because I had entered the steam caves briefly during a few earlier Rainier summits, including my previous ascent, another one-day overnight push with Hannah and Sky on August 1-2, 2007. That was on foot via the Ingraham-Emmons route variation right of Disappointment Cleaver and we left skis at Muir, but ski conditions looked quite good still on the Emmons. That time, we hung out about 10 ft below the surface in a steam cave entrance for maybe a half-hour or longer, to stay out of the wind. That cave was located just a few yards east of the low point on the crater rim, and no hot steaming fumaroles were evident in the uppermost chamber. We did not have any inclination to explore further down that time.

However, I've been trying (unsuccessfully) for many years to get a group together to camp up in the crater for 2-3 days, which would give enough time to explore the caves more thoroughly. I especially would like to visit the lake located deep under the ice of the West Crater, which is the highest in the USA (see http://www.highestlake.com/ for some discussion). There is also the wreckage of a plane located in one of the cave passages, it landed within the crater and could not take off again. Eventually it was buried by snowfall and moved downward with/through the ice, hung from the ceiling of a steam cave for some time, and then fell to the floor, where it still remains.

In contrast to Rainier, the steam caves in Sherman Crater on Mt Baker contain high concentrations of poisonous gases, primarily H2S, along with high levels of CO2, and entering them without either gas masks or self-contained breathing apparatus is likely to be fatal. However, I have never heard of a fatality related to them, mainly because few ever venture down into Sherman Crater to view them. On Mt Hood, the fumaroles near Crater Rock (Devil's Kitchen and Hot Rocks) used to form steam caves through the ice which formerly filled the crater floor. There were a number of fatal incidents in the late 19th and early 20th century after people fell into them and suffocated, but glacial recession in the crater has eliminated that hazard. Both fumarolic areas are now flat open areas easily visible from the normal route, and unable to hold any concentration of deadly gases. Another deadly fumarole incident I'm aware of occurred at Mammoth Mtn in April 2006, when three ski patrollers suffocated in a CO2 atmosphere after falling into a fumarole while trying to fence it off (see Mammoth Ski Patrol Tragedy).

One interesting note about steam caves: to the best of my knowledge, they have been documented on only 6 volcanoes worldwide, and four are in the Cascade Range: Mt Rainier, Mt Baker, Mt St Helens, Mt Hood (now vanished), Mt Wrangell (Alaska), and Mt Erebus (Antarctica). However, it is very likely that similar steam cave systems exist on a number of volcanoes in southern Chile and in Kamchatka, which are the two volcanic arcs most similar to the Cascades in latitude, altitude, and most importantly the present degree of glaciation. But I have been unable to find any published information, online or in print.


Interesting reading online:

Mt Rainier Glacier Caves Index: http://glaciercaves.com/html/mount_rainier.html
Mt Rainier Summit Steam Caves: http://glaciercaves.com/html/mountr_1.HTM
Mt Baker Crater Steam Caves: http://glaciercaves.com/html/mountb_1.HTM
Mt St Helens Glacier and Caves Index: http://glaciercaves.com/html/mount_st__helens.html
Mt St Helens Crater Firn Caves: http://glaciercaves.com/html/msh98__1.HTM text version of Anderson et al paper listed below
Mt Hood Deadly Fumaroles: http://glaciercaves.com/html/mounth_1.HTM

The News Tribune: Exploring Rainier's summit steam caves including photo of lake, July 1998
Outside Magazine: Rainier's Steam Caves, July-August 1996


Some published scientific papers:

Kiver, Eugene P., and Mumma, Martin D. "Summit Firn Caves, Mount Rainier, Washington." Science, 173:3994, p. 320-322 (1971)
Kiver, Eugene P., and Steele, William K. "Firn Caves in the Volcanic Craters of Mount Rainier, Washington." The NSS Bulletin, 37:3, p. 45-55 (1975) abstract only; this paper has a nice map of the cave passages as they existed back then, plus contour maps of the crater floor
Kiver, Eugene P., Snavely, Jack, and Snavely, Donna F. "Hydrogen Sulfide Fumes at the Summit of Mount Rainier Volcano, Washington." Northwest Science, 51:1, p. 31-35 (1977) free PDF
Zimbelman-D-R; Rye-R-O; Landis-G-P. "Fumaroles in ice caves on the summit of Mount Rainier; preliminary stable isotope, gas, and geochemical studies." Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 97:1-4, p. 457-473 (2000)

Kiver, Eugene P. "The First Exploration of Mount Baker Ice Caves." Explorers Journal, 53:2, p. 84-87 (1975)
Kiver, Eugene P. "Mount Baker's changing fumaroles." The Ore Bin, 40:8, p. 133-145 (1978) free PDF

Anderson, Charles H., Jr., et al. "Crater Firn Caves of Mount St. Helens, Washington." Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, 60:1, p. 44-50 (1998) free PDF
Anderson, Charles H., Jr., and Vining, Mark R. "Observations of Glacial, Geomorphic, Biologic, and Mineralogic Developments in the Crater of Mount St. Helens, Washington." Washington Geology, 27:2/3/4, p. 9-19 (1999) free PDF

« Last Edit: 05/12/08, 09:06 AM by Amar Andalkar » Logged

Mr.Doober
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Surv
« Reply #79 on: 05/11/08, 02:50 PM »

I'm not saying abandon modern technology, I just think that without much effort or extra gear, you can make a return trip easier in potentially difficult conditions.

There are several ways to use wands: you can place them every ropelength, at switchbacks, or on a fall line you plane on skiing (if you are ascending roughly the same route). Let's say you place one and note the elevation and compass heading to the next, which might be 500 vertical above. Repeat for a few thousand vertical and you've backed up your battery powered technology with caveman tech. If you try this, you may find it really isn't that difficult on ascent or descent to place and retrieve wands. On a nice day, they can even help out if you place them on better snow / higher quality ski descent lines.

Going light is a major key, but a handfull of wands is good insurance when you are on featureless terrain.
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peteyboy
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #80 on: 05/11/08, 05:43 PM »

Wow.  I feel like I just went to a conference on fumaroles!  Thanks!  Anybody think we can get some funding for a summer research trip to Chile?
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James Wells
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #81 on: 05/11/08, 08:14 PM »

Re the steam caves: The National Speleological Society (NSS) is the largest caving organization in the US.  Most NSS activities relate to caves formed in persistent rock such as limestone.  However, the NSS home page has this entry:

http://www.caves.org/io/projects.shtml
{content}
Mount Rainier Steam Caves Project

The project's primary objective is to survey and monitor the caves vicinity the summit of Mount Rainier, Washington. The caves are formed in the firn ice that is formed from consolidated snow. The firn melts at the rock substrate interface and the entire mass of firn in the crater subsides. Hot gasses escape from fumaroles and melt cave passages in the firn. Kiver reported two kilometers of passage. The continual subsidence and melting of passages apparently stays in an annual equilibrium but shows seasonal variation.
Project Director: Bill Klimack, 8995 Furrow Avenue, Ellicott City, MD 21042, (410)-461-8504, (E-mail: bklimack@aol.com).
{end content}

I don't know Bill and don't know if this project is active.  I do know that the NSS mounted a substantial effort to map the Paradise Ice Caves lower down and at one time (mostly 1970s) mapped as much as 10 miles of cave passage in one connected system there (apparently a considerable amount of it has melted away since, but more is presumably forming at the same time).
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Robie
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #82 on: 05/12/08, 08:25 PM »

I'm going to add my two cents here.  Amar is to be commended  for sharing this tale of his misadventures and self salvation. Nothing new here as I know him as a intrepid ski mountaineer and instructor. Also to be commended is our not so little communinty here at Tay for taking this in and applying Amar's lessons to our future endeavors. Some added all learned!
ps try the ice caves under the Flett some late summer
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Don_B
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #83 on: 05/12/08, 10:22 PM »

Amar,
I'm really glad you two are back to tell the tale. Thank you for sharing the story and all the information. You were admirably prepared and able. Thanks to other posters, too.

I'm a firm believer in analog non-battery operated compass and altimeter and map, but as one who has been on the receiving end of one rescue on the south side and one seach on the north side of Mt R, I would not dismiss the electronics either. Any port in a storm.

On cellphones: I use an LG tri-mode from Verizon that has really good reception/transmission (and was still getting Analog coverage in Utah last week) but when I called 911 from Rainier low on the north side, I could not maintain voice contact, but the Pierce County sheriff was able to text message me. In the debriefing, he said that they can often get through texting when voice is not working at all, so that is something to try.
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Jerm
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Surv
« Reply #84 on: 05/13/08, 11:02 AM »

That lake looks pretty cool!
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jtack
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #85 on: 05/13/08, 11:45 PM »

Thanks for the candid story, great writing, great pictures, and  thanks to everyone for their added perspective. jamie
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korup
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Surv
« Reply #86 on: 05/14/08, 10:37 AM »

Two comments- first on wands. My BD Revelation pack has some great slots on the waist belt that let you drop in 10-15 wands, and allow easy access on the way up, and a simple place to stash them on the way down. I've done it several times, and it works like a charm. On something as big as the Rainier summit slopes, maybe not extremely helpful however.

Second on toxic atmospheres in the caves- I'd be tempted to test it with a candle flame or stove. If you got a stove burning bright blue by the entrance and then moved it into the cave, staying bright blue would indicate reasonably clean air, while a sooty yellow-orange would tell you to be very wary. Certainly not foolproof, but could be useful.
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James Wells
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #87 on: 05/14/08, 12:51 PM »

I think the candle test is an indicator or oxygen and CO2 content, but does not help in the case of other pollutants (except highly combustible gases, in which case you may get a different kind of test result).
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Alan Brunelle
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #88 on: 05/14/08, 09:11 PM »

Yes even in the presence of normal levels of oxygen, gases such as CO and SO2 can be deadly.  Oxygen is only about 20% in our atmosphere, so there is lots of room for the other gases which are poisonous outright.  CO2 at elevated levels can compete for O2 in the blood, but it is the relatively much lower levels of CO that are really deadly.  The reason is that CO binds to the same spot on hemoglobin as does the oxygen (and CO2) but it does so much more tightly than O2 or CO2.  It comes off very slowly.  So while a candle may burn just fine in an atmosphere with 20% O2, it does not see or care about the CO which could kill you.  The SO2 is also poisonous, but the stench is so powerful at even low levels that a person would leave the area before it was a health issue.  However, in a trapped situation, i.e. staying in a stinky warm place or go out into a deadly blizzard, it could be bad.

CO2 is less toxic relatively, but still dangerous levels of CO2 could be achieved without reducing the O2 content in a cave such that a candle would still burn fine.

A canary would be a much more appropriate test!  They are living organisms!  Still more technology to carry!

Alan
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korup
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #89 on: 05/15/08, 11:42 AM »

So, getting *way* off topic, but since CO2 does not support combustion and CO burns with a "bright blue flame" (Merck Index), I think that even with something close to normal O2 levels, a flame would do some odd things with significant CO2 or CO?
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Charlie Hagedorn
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #90 on: 05/15/08, 11:15 PM »

A canary would be a much more appropriate test!  They are living organisms!  Still more technology to carry!

Bring on the ultralight carbon fiber backcountry fumarole survival ski canary!

Seriously though, there may be some CO detection materials that one could sensibly carry to indicate the presence of high concentrations of CO. I don't have time to research it at the moment, but it's quite possible that something like litmus paper exists to detect CO, at least at very high levels.
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Alan Brunelle
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #91 on: 05/15/08, 11:26 PM »

I know this is boring and off topic, but just to clarify, air is roughly 20% oxygen and 78% Nitrogen and a few other inert (as far as combustion goes) gases, including CO2.

Nitrogen also does not support combustion either.  Substituting nitrogen for CO2 will not change the combustibility of the mix.  BUT, that can't happen randomly.  If you add lots of CO2, then both O2 and N2 will be reduced, effectively diluted and that could affect combustion (by dilution of the O2 to a lower level).  Just being at 14,000ft. is reducing the amount of O2 available for combustion.

As for CO.  It is so poisonous that if you see an affect on a candle, its concentration is way past lethal.  My point being that CO likely would be poisonous at levels that would not be detectable with a simple candle flame.  Reading in Wikipedia, suggests that hundreds or just one or two thousands of PPM (which is roughly 0.1%) would be rapidly lethal.  Hard to imagine that  0.1% CO would induce a significant change in a candle flame.

I would think that a test, such as suggested, like litmus paper would be doable.  Even for the relatively low levels that are toxic.  We use the electronic ones at home, but I would think a chemical one could work also.

As for the stinky smell from volcanoes, this can also come from hydrogen sulfide, not just sulfur dioxide.  Hydrogen sulfide is far more toxic, similar to hydrogen cyanide and is lethal at levels similar to CO.  We are so sensitive to the smell that it would be easy and likely that a person would leave the area before toxicity was an issue.  It is also flammable and could color a flame, but again at low levels, seems unlikely.

Alan
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David_Lowry
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #92 on: 05/16/08, 07:43 PM »

Hi Alan, can you drop me an email?  huskyrunnr"nospamplease"@msn.com

I'm using a Yaesu VX-7R.  I have it set up where it can run off AA's, 1.4 Ah rechargeable LiIon packs, a 30 Ah SLA or one of those foldable solar panels.  With the SLA, I can boost up to 35 Watts for several hours with a very small brick amp.
  The last run with the dogs that Daniel and I made, my SPOT went belly up whereas I was making crystal clear 2M contacts through one of my hometown repeaters 120 miles away with the VX-7R.  I've also made a 3-element Yagi that gives about 7dB over the Diamond whip antenna that I was using, so I expect even better performance with it.  The Yagi weighs less than 3 oz.

When I get to that point, I'm going to try NVIS on 40M and 80M to get out of deep terrain holes, but that really would not apply very well to mountaineering.

We had Daniel's scout troop going up St. Helens last summer, 30 boys strung out on the mountain.  We used FRS and my opinion is that they are worse than marginal compared to a 5W handheld.
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Keith_Henson
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Re: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival
« Reply #93 on: 08/12/09, 02:38 PM »

Well this incident made it into the annals of the AAC's Accidents in North American Mountaineering, 2009 (p71-2), while acknowledging that there was no accident.

(Every year when it arrives I read this thing cover to cover find myself getting depressed and scared.)
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Keith A Henson, Puyallup
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"Let's go! That powder's not going to ski itself."
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