Written by: Krystin Norman, SheJumps Seattle Ambassador
Spring in the Pacific Northwest is gaining speed (and sunshine!) after a long and amazing winter full of powder days at the resort and less backcountry skiing than we had originally planned because riding the lift was too convenient. Now that the resorts are closed, the mind of every skier, who can’t give up standing on two sticks for more than a month, has shifted from searching for untouched pow to searching for perfect corn skiing on our beautiful volcanic mountains that hold snow year-round.
When considering backcountry travel on glaciated snow, one must also consider the risks of both crevasse travel and avalanche danger. For the past couple of winters, SheJumps PNW has collaborated with Mountain Madness guides out of Seattle, Washington on a number of all-women’s AIARE avalanche safety courses. A couple of weekends ago, we held our first SheJumps and Mountain Madness crevasse rescue clinic on the Nisqually Glacier and Paradise side of beautiful Mount Rainier National Park.
The lovely and wise Jenny Konway, of Mountain Madness and RMI guides, was our upbeat guide for the day. Five ladies from the greater Seattle-area gathered with Jenny at the Paradise parking lot to go through gear and introduce each other before beginning the course. As soon as we left the parking lot (and the skier guys parked next to us) to head up towards the glacier, the vibe instantly switched to judgement-free lady mode. It was a gorgeous, sunny morning with some clouds rolling in over Rainier, but with crisp views of the Tatoosh, Mount Adams, and Mount Saint Helens in the distance. As the ladies chatted on the way up the skin track, we all learned that our worlds are pretty small with many mutual places lived, friends, and interests in life.
Once on an ideal part of the glacier under Pan Point with flat snow and a steep hill for practicing crevasse rescue, we all put on our harnesses and grabbed our ice axes to practice self-arresting with an ice axe. Self-arresting is hard work! Jenny gave us all some great tips about proper stance to get boots dug into the snow or ice, and how to have a bomber arm lock with your ice axe to jam it in the snow/ice while avoiding hitting your face.
Throughout the rest of the day, we went over 2-person and 3-person rescue systems for setting Z-pulleys with 3:1 and 6:1 mechanical advantage to rescue a fallen friend from a crevasse. Jenny covered use of picket anchors, T-slot anchors, and an equalized two-anchor system to allow the rescuer to escape the rope system before setting up a pulley haul system.
We also discussed the use of ski gear or even snow as a way to create anchors in the absence of pickets and T-slots. Practicing prusik hitches and use of prusiks as friction hitches was essential throughout the entire day, and the ladies practiced these hitches one-handed and in a number of awkward stances as if they were in rescue mode after self-arresting themselves and their friend.
After a full day of switching rescue teams and practicing all of the sequential steps of crevasse rescue over and over again to learn it as best as possible, we practiced a bit of rope skills for roping up to walk or skin in glaciated terrain. After some rope practice, we all packed up our glacier gear, put on our packs, transitioned to ski mode (yay!), and made some turns back down to the cars at Paradise!
The snow was a bit sticky from the warm sun that day, but the turns were soft and buttery! Smiles were plentiful back at the cars as we chatted about the day and how we were all excited to start practicing crevasse rescue skills more in preparation for future adventures.
A huge thanks to our partners for supporting this clinic!