AMC Ice Program: Second Weekend

I debated whether to write a post on this weekend because it didn’t quite turn out as planned. In fact, it turned out pretty terribly. I did learn some valuable lessons in safety and wildnerness rescue so ultimately decided that I could share them here.

I headed up to the White Mountains this past Friday for the second AMC Ice Program weekend. Friday night was also the opening evening of the 20th annual Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest and I was lucky to enjoy some presentations from incredible climbers. Nick Bullock ran through a hodge podge of adventure photos and video but his presentation would more aptly be described as a comedic act. A big dose of British humor was well-recieved while he described how he hung on during an avalanche while leading a nearly-unclimbable face in Canada, or how he survived a bivy at the top of Mt. McKinley after 36 hours of climbing to complete the Slovak Direct route. Freddie Wilkinson and Renan Ozturk were next up and had everyone on the edge of their seats to find out whether they would complete Ruth’s Gorge climb, the Tooth Traverse. They produced a film on the efforts which is absolutely incredible and soon to be released.

Tooth Traverse

The Tooth Traverse in Alaska

Metolius

Testing out a Metolius giveaway with some “assisted” pull-ups

On Saturday I was paired up with an experienced climber to tackle some multi-pitch routes. I was a bit disappointed because we were assigned easy routes that I had already done before on Mt. Willard. We started with Cinema Gully which was thinner than I could believe. It turned out to be a great climb though and was definitely bold for my leader. We then did a swift climb of Upper Hitchcock, descended Mt. Willard, and then embarked on a trail run in search of a lost ice screw. The evening was a fun time back at the cabin with a big group dinner and amazing giveaways from AMC Ice Program sponsors. I came away with a lot of loot!

Sunday I was paired with the same leader but this time he conceded to take me up some harder ice. I was totally psyched to take on Dracula alongside another second. We started in on the approach which is a flat rail track along Frankenstein Cliffs. To get to Dracula, you then turn left and ascend a steep section leading to the base of the climb. Toward the top, I saw some low-grade ice on the approach and got out both tools to climb up it. The other second followed me with one tool to ascend. As I reached the top of the approach, the leader and I turned to watch the other student take a horrible fall. We looked on in silence and he fell in silence. He fell about 120′ and fast, but I can replay every part of it in my head.

We called to him to see how bad the damage was and were relieved to hear him reply lucidly. In a stroke of luck, he had been wearing a helmet (unlike me or our leader). We descended to him and then began our rescue. I learned quite a few things through the process so I figure that bulleting them might be easiest:

  • Assess the level of injury. We determined that our partner had no neck or spine injuries and was able to move himself and we assumed from the fall that he may have hurt his leg or ankle.
  • Carry an anti-inflammatory. Our leader had Naproxen which he gave to our injured party right away before taking any further steps.
  • About 45 mins after an accident, shock will set in. It is key to keep the injured warm before it does. We layered our friend up in our belay jackets, gloves, etc. before beginning to rescue effort. Like clockwork, shock did set in and the injured party teetered on falling asleep out in cold February weather.
  • Move the injured carefully in order to minimize re-injury. We asked our friend to turn over onto his stomach and tied him into a rope in order to belay him from above while he slid down the steep approach on his stomach. When we got him to the flat trail, we tried for a moment to assist him on his feet but determined he could not stand and put him back down.
  • Find help. We were able to assort a team of willing climbers to help pull/carry a sled out to the trailhead. When carrying the sled, have as many people holding the weight as possible and rotate positions intermittently to minimize strain.
  • Keep the victim comfortable but remember RICE. We continued to bundle our friend and laid down coats, rope, and packs in the rescue sled to insulate him. We made sure to elevate the leg we thought was injured. He was growing uncomfortable with his boot on but we insisted it stay on to minimize swelling.
  • Adrenaline is a powerful drug. About 1.5 hours after the fall, the level of injury began to reveal itself. The amount of pain that our friend was in was dumbfounding. For this reason, one cannot trust the victim to accurately assess their own injuries. Had we listened to him, we might have gone on carrying about our day only to have him enter shock and excruciating pain later. For the record, he thought he might have sprained an ankle. In reality, he had seriously broken two ankles.
  • Wear a helmet on the approach. The approach and top out is in my experience, and in the experience of many others, the most dangerous part of the day. Proceed cautiously and wear a helmet. On Sunday alone I knew another climber who fell about 100′ on the approach and was stopped only by an onlooker tackling him as he tumbled.

Ultimately, we got our friend to the hospital and he is feeling much better and already looking forward to getting back out there after a couple ankle surgeries!

mountain rescue

Thanks to everyone who helped with a seamless rescue

9 thoughts on “AMC Ice Program: Second Weekend

    • Thanks, he seems to be doing as well as one could hope for given the circumstances. One of the biggest takeaways for me is that in climbing, accidents will always happen (big or small) so it’s best to be prepared to deal with them!

  1. Thanks for sharing! Glad to hear it worked out as well as it did. Not to judge, but many folks learn to climb grade 4 ice without properly learning low-angle ice technique (French Technique). Did you see the fall occur? What was the victim’s level of experience? It is not uncommon for guides to use ropes in situation’s like this, or careful demonstration of how to move through what looks like mild terrain… then again sometimes we just trip :)

    • The guy who was injured was somewhat inexperienced but he did know french technique etc. Part of the problem was that he didn’t recognize that the ice we migrated onto was better suited for front-pointing with two tools. He followed me as I changed to ice climbing style but went up with one axe and continued with french technique because that’s how he had been instructed by guides and classes to handle an approach (rather than independently assess the conditions and alter his style). The other part of the issue is that neither me or our very experienced leader assessed what he was doing to give him pointers or suggest he approach on the snow to the right of Dracula.

      To the credit of the AMC Ice Program, a great accident report was produced and a productive discussion opened up. I think the biggest takeaway was to understand everything that comes with climbing alongside less experienced partners. By the same token, a very experienced climber fell the same distance on a similar approach that day but luckily sustained no injuries–with conditions like that weekend’s, accidents were just high risk.

      • It’s just internal now as far as I know. If the involved parties are comfortable with it, I can circulate the report but it does mention a lot of folks by name so I wouldn’t want to make it available without everyone’s ok. I can understand that it would be useful for other climbers though so I’m looking into it.

  2. Interesting. Sunday morning I asked the fellow running down the tracks with the litter if he needed any help or wanted me to make a phone call. He said no additional help was needed. A long sliding fall like that can be a serious MOI. Happy to hear it wasn’t worse.

  3. I am sooo sorry to hear of this and hopes that he makes a full and complete recovery. I am a RN and have worked in ER’s before and was an EMT as well – and have seen these kinds of injuries before and what happens when shock sets in. Shock is a serious life threatening scenario and your guys acted in a thorough and highly skilled manner in keeping this person warm, supported, etc. I am a avid believer is outdoor hikers, climbers, etc. carrying legal pain medication for instances such as this AND Benadryl for any emergency insect bites and such during the summer to thwart off serious life threatening allergic reactions from stings and bites that a person may not even know they HAVE – until it happens. Kudos to you guys for helping this person and saving him life. Shock can be deadly. God Bless you all!

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