I was a senior staff trainer at Outward Bound for their Instructor’s Alpine Courses on Mt. Hood. We were finalising a week of training with a successful summit climb. But on the ascent, there was one of those moments, when learning from experience could have been painful but wasn’t, because the outcome was positive. We were climbing the Snow Dome, on Mt. Hood’s northwest side, on the final approach to the Sunshine Route. I had been leading and training staff on this route for a few years prior, so was relatively familiar with the route, crevasses and bivy sites.
We set out from high camp on the snow dome early on a cloudless sunny day, a crisp snap in the spring air, crampons crunched the snow underfoot. I decided to let the trainees lead out on ropes of four, with one trainer per rope team. There were three rope teams, and my team was in the back, with taking up the final position. It was easy ground, and once we got to the base of the steeper terrain at the start of the Sunshine route, we’d rearrange the order.
Before setting off, we first decided who would lead out. I then briefed him on the route, which generally followed the crest of the snow dome, but noting there was a huge crevasse/bergshrund which although was now covered in the season’s heavy snow, was nevertheless there, and to take caution.
As it turns out, my description was not detailed enough, nor was my mental note taking from previous year’s of the best place to cross the crevasse. If I remember correctly we noted the depression in the snow on the way up. Suddenly all heard a huge “wuumph” sound ahead of us, clouds of snow rose from a newly created hole in the snow’s surface, while the rope team leader suddenly vanished from our sight. His rope team members, remember their training, dropped in self-arrest position, all happening in a matter of seconds. My heart was in my throat, and there was silence. We all stood for a moment, staring uphill at the gaping holed where the route finder had been, in disbelief of the sheer power of what we’d just witnessed. The ice blocks that broke free from the glacier’s crevasse were 18-wheeler truck sized. Another few seconds passed, which seemed like an eternity. “Was the rope team leader OK?” we all anxously pondered? I’m sure each one of us wondered if the huge blocks had landed on him. And then, we could see an ice axe, a hand and arm shoot skyward, and attached was the leader climbing out onto the glacier’s surface giving the OK sign by raising both arms. All the rope teams gave a sigh of relief then a cheer.
As we gathered and he told us he was lucky enough to have landed on a large block and simply climb out, I looked to where I could now see the configuration of the crevasse from previous years was restored to the more familiar view of previous years when there was less seasonal snow. My memory flashed back this more familiar view of the crevasse crossing.
When one reads of accounts such as this, it’s easy to think ” I would have remembered the route better than the story teller.” I tend to take on the armchair quarterback role when I read such accounts as well, but add this story to the blog not only to pass on my experience, knowledge of the route but also tell an interesting story about the mountains. All I have to say was, it was good to see that guy climb out and stand on the snow again.
Author’s note: I do have some good images of this day, and of moments after the snowbridge collapse, but since they’re in storage in the USA, you’ll have to wait for a number of months before you’ll see them on this entry.
For now, I’ve included some images taken from the same location, that I pulled off Google Images. While I don’t approve of the legwear of the ski mountaineer, I decided not to Photoshop him out as it provides good scale and humor. The first shot is the bergshrund farther up the route. This last image is a sidenote of glacial recession on Mt. Hood.
Tags: Bergshrund, Dexter Randy Richards, Glacial recession, Glacier Travel, Mountain Spirit Institute, Mountaineering, Mt. Hood, Outdoor leadership, Outward Bound, Pacific Crest Outward Bound, Route finding, routefinding, Snow bridge collapse, Snow Dome, Staff Training, Sunshine Route