MT. BAKER VIA BOULDER GLACIER
JUNE 14 & 15, 1998
I’ve been on my share or trips that, in hindsight, were farces. I remember spending a night on Foggy when a couple students were too slow. I remember missing the summit on Dorado Needle when I was too slow. I remember starting in for the High Priest only to have a rope lead bail out and then deciding to switch to Yellowjacket tower – where we couldn’t find the route and straggled out in the dark and finally took the students up Lundin a couple of days later.
|Jerry Scott||Intermediate graduate, climb leader|
|BG||Intermediate student, rope leader|
|JM||Second year basic student , Intermediate student|
|AA||Second year basic student|
|DJ||Second year basic student|
We left camp at 4:00 AM. We were tied into two rope teams – BB, DJ and JM on one (with DJ in the middle) and MB, AA and me on the other (AA in the middle) There were broken clouds to the East but we could see stars and we had an unobstructed view of the summit. The top couple inches of the snow was soft. There was no wind. Within an hour the sun came up and we stopped to put on sun screen and goggles.
At about 8,500 feet we got onto steeper terrain and the snow had hardened up considerably. I called a break and we put on crampons. I felt that the other rope team was moving a little slower than I would have liked but I though that it was just that DJ wasn’t happy with the security of the steps and that crampons would help.
At a little over 9,000 feet BG had problems route-finding through several crevasses and progress slowed. I had MB take the lead in order to put me at the back of the first rope and BG at the front of the second were we could communicate better. MB led us through the crevasses above the crater and up to the bergschrund with little difficulty. We were under the summit pyramid at this point so that I was not aware of anything that might have changed our view. The snow had slid in this area but the debris were frozen and travel was not difficult although the slope was steep. I was concerned about moving quickly to get down before this area warmed up at mid-day. Visibility continued to be good – we could see the entire slope we were traversing. The bridge over the bergschrund was tenuous so MB asked me to lead it. BG was in sight but trailing so after we got over the bergschrund and onto the ridge I asked MB to take the lead again. At that point we could see perhaps a hundred yards but clouds obstructed our view of the summit. When BG caught up I had him wand the bridge over the bergschrund and place a second wand 100 yards higher on the ridge so that we wouldn’t miss the turn coming down. At this point it was about 9:00 and we were about 500 feet below the summit
We entered the clouds a couple hundred feet higher and stopped to put on extra clothing. There were two or three crevasse crossings that slowed us down – MB asked me to either lead or evaluate at least two of them. We experienced extremely strong winds and had difficulty staying on our feet at times. When we reached the summit visibility was perhaps 15 feet with winds of probably 25 miles an hour and snow. Packs and gear were covered with a layer of ice. It was about 10:30. We didn’t linger on the summit.
We descended the ridge with no particular difficulty finding the wand in the middle of the ridge but noting that the one at the bridge over the bergschrund had blown away. We traversed downward across the avalanche debris with JM leading the first team and me leading the second. Visibility was probably 50 feet in fog and sleet. AA slipped a couple of times and I make a note that as soon as we got down to the crater level we ought to get out of crampons. (None of us had any real problem with snow balling up on our crampons – I’m not really sure why AA was slipping.) The snow was definitely softening up but I wasn’t particularly concerned about slides since my feet were only going in a couple of inches and it was very solid underneath. A short time after a longer slide (he arrested without putting weight on the rope) AA called to me that he had cut himself on a crampon and was bleeding a lot. It was about 11:30.
BG was out of sight ahead of me so I called to him and told him to hold up. I pulled up AA’s pant leg and located the puncture on his calf which was bleeding but not spurting. (His thick sock was soaked and his plastic boot was full of blood.) I did a quick check to make sure that there was only one wound and then applied a gauze pad folded into four layers. I applied direct pressure and after four or five minutes I took a roller gauze and bandaged the pad in place tightly. I moved up to BG, explained the situation and told him that we needed to get down to easier terrain quickly so that AA could receive a full check and put on some more clothes. I put MB on the front of my rope and I tied in short (about 15 feet ) next to AA so that I could monitor his condition.
After about fifteen minutes of travel BG called back to me that JM had lost the track, had come to a crevasse that he couldn’t cross and that they didn’t know what to do. I moved up, found a tenuous bridge and crossed it only to see that I was moving down into a very deep crevasse that was clearly not the way we had come. I directed BG to retrace our steps looking for our uphill tracks and to get us back on route. He took us back up slope for half an hour, past the scene of AA’s accident, but was unable to find the tracks from our ascent. We then decided to traverse across the slope at a higher elevation figuring that we would pick up our tracks at some point. I was starting to get concerned about the stability of the slope and I knew that we had already had one accident there which made me concerned about the likelihood of another. I took another look at AA’s bandage and decided that it wasn’t saturated. I helped him get his rain pants on and noticed that he was cold but he insisted that his hands and feet were fine and that his only real problem was that his legs were wet. We eventually traversed completely across the avalanche debris without finding any sign of our ascent route. We then descended beside the margin of the debris until we came to a crevasse which forced us to the left before we could find a way to cross. We were still at an elevation above 9,100 feel. My instructions to BG (probably somewhat curtly given at this point) were to descend as quickly as possible to crater level since I was sure that we would be able to find the cleaver that we needed to follow back to camp if we could get to 8,500 feet. We continued traversing down in a Northeast direction crossing several crevasses. At one point we belayed each other across a big slot on a weak bridge and I went back to using the full length of the rope. Visibility was less than 50 feet in fog and sleet. Eventually BG had us back down several hundred feet on fairly steep snow.
We finally spotted rocks below and followed them down until BG called up that we had to go back up since the slope below turned into a steep bowl. I called a halt and got the entire party together on the rocks and told everyone to take their crampons off. It was 3:30 and I estimated that we were at about 8,500 feet. JM and I took another look at AA’s bandage and satisfied ourselves that it wasn’t saturated and didn’t need to be supplemented. BG complained about being flustered and said that he couldn’t tell which way the slope went, how steep it was or where we should head.
I consulted the map and concluded that we were likely on a cleaver on the far side of the Park Glacier from the one we wanted to be on. I decided that we should follow that ridge to it’s bottom then traverse South-west to the cleaver separating the Boulder Glacier from the Park Glacier. On the map the slope angle looked moderate – certainly better than the area we had apparently just passed through. In order to get to the bottom of the cleaver I needed to cross the bowl that had stymied BG. I plunge-stepped to the bottom of the bowl and noted that it was just a 75 foot funnel into a very steep, loose and icy gully. AA was behind me, about half way down the slope (probably 30 – 40 feet from the rocky bottom) when he fell and slid down on his side, head first. MB went into arrest position but didn’t take AA’s weight until after AA hit the rocks. I was in a stable position on the loose rocks at the bottom and as he went below me the rope bent around a boulder leaving me confident that I could hold both of them if necessary. I couldn’t see AA after he slid below me. I yelled at BG to get down and help AA since I was scared that he had been seriously injured when he hit the rock and I didn’t want to leave my position or have MB get out his. BG couldn’t move and then had trouble with the slope – he ended up backing down. AA yelled up that he was okay and effectively climbed out of the gully before BG could get to him. I watched AA for about ten minutes and talked to him enough to determine that he hadn’t lost consciousness and didn’t have any pain and was in condition to continue. Visibility at this point was probably about 75 feet although having rocks instead of featureless snow made it much less disorienting.
We continued our descent to the bottom of the cleaver, traversed through a couple of very large crevasses, and hit the other cleaver at about 7,500 feet. The wind got strong during this descent and visibility improved considerably. We reached our tents at about 6:30 with no further complications. AA indicated that he wasn’t in pain and could hike out without assistance. We left camp at about 7:30 and descended to a 100 foot rock step with a handline. BG made several false starts before we were able to find the handline and then he fell while down-climbing. MB apparently down-climbed without difficulty. (I didn’t observe either of the first two as I was shepherding DJ who had straggled from one of BG’s false starts and BG didn’t wait for me to arrive before down-climbing.) AA asked if he could use the handline as a dulfersitz and I decided to take the time to set up a rappel. I instructed the rest of the group to put on their harnesses and rigged a double rope which we all descended without problems. We continued the hike out by headlight in the rain and the only additional difficulties we encountered were problems connecting trail fragments. DJ was obviously tired and lagged behind the group. I stayed with him for part of the distance and concluded that he was okay but moving slower. Most of the group reached the cars at about 1:00 AM; DJ was about 15 minutes behind us. As we waited for DJ to join us I advised AA to get his tetnus shot updated.
I was really lucky to get home alive from this trip – everyone in my car went to sleep and I had real trouble driving. I ended up getting home at about 4:00 , showering and heading in for work. I know that I nodded off in my boss’ office once that following afternoon – which was unfortunate given that it was my second week on the job.