Continuing to compile all the knowledge and skills learned during mountaineering school, it was time to practice even more. After work on Friday, I headed south to Mount Rainier National Park for a weekend of camping and climbing. Arriving late to the campground Friday night and pitching the tent, I joined the other WAC students and instructors to sharpen crampons around a campfire.
Camping at Big Creek Campground – Photo by: Jodie Eilers
After stories and jokes were told, it was time to head to bed to start a long weekend of mountaineering fun! Waking up to the sound of instructors walking between tents making sure everyone was up, I cooked breakfast and was ready for the day. Unfortunately, my car made the wrong turn out of the campground and took a long detour. We were only 15 minutes late and had amazing views of Mount Adams on our drive to Paradise.
After going through bag checks, the group started the climb up to the Nisqually Glacier. The weekend’s stations were set up by instructors that went in early and camped on the glacier. The ascent was relatively easy. Once off the Camp Muir boot pack, I followed in line. I was on snow at the end of May and was loving every minute.
Right before reaching the glacier, we all broke into our rope teams, flaked the rope, and decided the order. I had an awesome rope team that consisted of Maxim, Geoff, and Katie, along with our instructor Laurence. Once attached to the rope, all the teams took their turns to get up to the meeting point with the other instructors and stations.
Per the usual WAC outing theme, everyone rotated between stations. Three of the stations would be repeated both days with two only being covered once. Since the weather was cooperating, it was necessary to lather on the sunscreen. I had learned my lesson fast by underestimating the sun’s reflection on the snow to get the worst sunburn of my life.
Saturday was a challenge. It was my first station, and I was completely stoked to be going into a crevasse correctly–by not falling in. I volunteered to go into a short section of the crevasse and hung out for a couple minutes. I took time to take pictures of the other classmates that were using their Texas prusiks to climb out of the crevasse…
Katie being lowered into a Nisqually Glacier crevasse.
I then attempted to climb out and learned fast it was harder than climbing up the ropes hung in trees from the Spire Rock outings. The rope was entrenched in the snow prohibiting me from using my prusiks. I then had to be helped out, which took the entire rotation. Even the short amount of time being caught in the crevasse racked my nerves and emotions. I can’t even imagine falling into a crevasse while mountaineering. However, it is exposure to the real life scenarios and conditions that allow one to know the risks of mountaineering and their limits.
Everyday I’m prusiking!
I was ready for another chance to prusik on Sunday. The instructors found a better crevasse and set up new bollard snow anchors. I volunteered to be the first one into the second crevasse when I reached the Prusik Cafe. I was lowered down and was blown away by the beauty of the compressed glaciated ice.
Bollard snow anchors
Katie getting ready to prusik.
Since my rope was close to another one, Hannah was lowered just beside me. As she was lowered, snow was kicked and broken loose from the the glacier, falling deep into the crevasse. Her rope was shorter than mine, so I was able to capture snow falling into the crevasse as she climbed her way out.
I was successful and climbed out of the crevasse on my own! It is amazing how much relief I felt after my first crevasse struggle.
Just chilling in a crevasse. – Photo by: Katie Farrell
The Z-Pulley technique is used to pull out a fallen climber that is unable to prusik out a crevasse on their own. Saturday was spent practicing the technique we learned earlier in the week. I took my turn as the “dead” weight to be pulled out while other students set up the Z-Pulley, pulled me out as far as they could, and then reset the system to continue until I was “out” of the crevasse.
Sunday was spent pretending someone fell and was unresponsive. Depending on the positioning on the rope determined what role you played in the rescue. In the picture below, Geoff (the one laying in the snow) self-arrested to stop the “fallen” climber from going deeper into the crevasse while Maxim set up the Z-Pulley to rescue the “fallen” climber.
Low Angle Ice
Strapping metal points around stiff soled boots to gain traction on ice. Easy right? Not exactly! I have ascended and descended mountains with crampons and have been in glaciers wearing them. However, I learned far more than I thought I would. Don’t let the wording “low angle ice” fool you. Standing on the angle with the crampons gripping into the ice, my legs were burning since it was my last station. A long day of activity flared up a previous foot injury I have had and was advised not to continue the station.
Eddie instructing Alice and Katie.
I watched as my classmates continued to practice the French technique in both directions climbing the angles by switching back and forth. The French technique is to keep your body and feet pointing downward then taking the downward leg and lifting it up and over the upward leg.
Sunday was time to practice the French technique with our ice axes. I was to repeat this station twice since I missed part of Saturday. Swinging the pick or spike into the ice until it stuck to get more stability on the ice reduced the amount of leg muscles being used. Along with using the ice axe to balance and pull ourselves up the angled ice, we learned to use the axe as a belay by swinging the pick into the ice below and sliding out hand and walking out feed down the ice before repeating.
Glacier Walk (Saturday)
Glacier navigation is crucial. Fred went over communicating on a rope team once again, especially when crossing snow bridges. Walking for almost the entire rotation and changing positions on the rope to know the different communication roles. It was a straight forward station but one that is extremely important. Making sure the pace of the group is appropriate, along with the step distance for all team members. Communicating these will help the team conserve energy and keep moving at a reasonable pace.
Vertical Ice (Sunday)
As mentioned, I skipped the introduction to ice climbing and practice the French technique more. I am unable to talk much about this station, but I did get to see the last person finish the climb up as I was finishing low angle ice. It was time to pack up and distribute the gear to leave no trace and finish our long weekend.
The clouds began to roll in to cover Mount Rainier. It was a perfect end to an amazing weekend. The end of the Basic Climbing class was approaching with the last student climb to be the upcoming weekend.
We started out strangers and are now friends.
My awesome rope team! (Maxim, Angela, Katie, Geoff, Laurence)
Enjoying a couple of beverages in the Paradise parking lot.
Have you ever walked on a glacier?
More in this series:
- Mountaineering – Is it for me?
- Mountaineering School – Gear and Navigation
- Mountaineering School – Knots, Knots, and Spire Rock
- Mountaineering School – Anchors and Climbing Mt. Erie
- Mountaineering School – Staying Safe on the Mountain
- Mountaineering School – Winter Camping, Ice Axe, and Snow I
- Mountaineering School – Alpine II Climb