Weekend of 4/2?

tMail is talking about getting up in the mountains on Saturday or Sunday (Sunday is currently looking much better in the forecast). The weather coming through over the next few days may be the determining factor, but if things are looking up (weatherwise) I could be talked into it.

My meniscus issue will be a bit of a challenge but I think I've got the compensating behavior figured out. I have a quick-release splint (velcro straps) that I use during yard work that will offer excellent pinkie-protection.

So, if conditions are favorable, where to? The PM's excellent Franconia Ridge adventure speaks highly of that destination, but he was just there so probably won't want to go back immediately. I have to go get the two axes they found at some point, which either means waiting for enough melt to reveal the remaining two or just going and fetching the two found so far. I'd be up for heading back up Dodge's to look for the axes and either finishing that trek or doing some self-arrest drills in Tucks. The avi's last weekend probably covered the axes w/ fresh snow, making their discovery less likely, but we know they're up there somewhere. Also, 'our' avi split into two routes as it approached the base of Dodge's and intersected Hillman's in two places - we ended up on the right branch (climber's right) so there could be axes under the left branch.

Massive snow melt, forecasted rain rain rain, and deep snow in the ravines could mean some route challenges.

MadDog said he's out of commission until mid-May. Anybody else available? Any ideas?


Radio Silence

Some number of days will elapse before the next great adventure. Probably more for tMail whose ACL & MCL injuries will keep him immobile for a month or so. This post will sit here as a placeholder while injuries heal. Onward & Upward! (And a haiku)

Short attention span
An internet avalanche
Now back to living


Dodge's Drop, Slide, Crash

tMail and I headed up Dodge's for some excellent adventure on Saturday. Excellent weather, 'Low' avi conditions everywhere. The ascent up was pretty uneventful - bright sun and glacier glasses. I was in a t-shirt the entire time from the parking lot all the way up Dodges. See this video for a 20sec clip of conditions on the ascent. The snow consisted of three distinct terrains:

  1. The old surface - identifiable by shiny remelted crust that caught the light, in some areas coated with little marbles of ice fused into the surface. It was deep - probably to rock - that allowed for excellent toe-pointing, little breakage, axes sinking in a few inches.
  2. Windslab in the runout channels or washed up the sides of the gulley. In some cases it was deep - could plunge the axe handle in all the way and kicked steps were almost a full boot in. But it was highly variable. I did a few test traverses across the windslab, prodding the axe handle in and the changeover from handle deep to nothing could happen in under two feet. This gave me the sense that the windslab was low volume in general.
  3. Runout. Ice and debris were constantly forming and reforming the channel of the gully. This was mostly loose, sandy, ball-bearing - well packed, but loose. I did a few test traverses across and up and found that in many cases the main channel was scoured down to the base.
Other notables worth commenting on: the ice fall in the 'Straights of Gibralter' (the narrow choke-point in the middle) was hidden under snow - no hint of it at all. This gave an indication of the depth. As we reached the start zone, I was aware that the original route that went toward climber's right was pillowed up so I veered left toward the 'Shark Fin'. The pic at the right (click to zoom) was posted on tuckerman.org to show the fracture line - the pic was taken a bit after our ordeal. While i'm struggling with 'what did i do wrong?' and 'what should i have noticed?'

I feel good that i tested the snow, evaluated the situation repeatedly throughout the asent, changed plans at the top and tried for what seemed to be safety. I believed that the high moisture content and cold temperatures had taken care of bonding - an idea that was reinforced by the 'Low' ratings everywhere and the tight appearance of the slab. It didn't look like new slab on ice. It looked like bonded slab on older, highly stable base. You could feel the firm surface under the less dense slab but it seemed to lack a 'hard' transition the way powder on ice does. The slope was begining to relax at the start-zone where the added tension in the slab had built up significant energy. Because of the changing slope, I had both axes out and drove them in together for a sprint to the top. The slab fractured 6ft in front of me, right at the obvious start-zone (or as Chris Joosten later reminded me, the "zone of maximum convexity"). We were 12 feet from the 'all clear'. It snapped like a rubber-band and the fracture shot to the right and left. The details of what happened next will be posted in our trip reports, which for me will be a detailed blow-by-blow of being in the avi.

Dan's 'blow-by-blow': This account covers a timeframe of between 30 and 60 seconds - the entire trip down. I really don't know how long it took. It's broken into perceptual stages - discrete chapter in my memory:
  • Initial Release (12:30): As the slab let loose, the rapid acceleration and escalation of the direness of the situation took no perceptible time to register. I had both axes in through the slab and into the old bed with my full weight on them - knees and hips off the ground, crampons kicking. The slab thickness to the old bed was between 6 and 12" deep. I yelled something - maybe 'I'm riding it down!' as in 'try to see where i land and come dig me out'. if you click on the pic to the right you can see the two-stage sequence. Tim was below me and to the right (we guess 15ft or so). The slab cracked in an "A" with me about 6ft below the vertex and the width about as wide as my body - maybe a bit more. I dropped with this long, narrow raft, accelerating rapidly. Tim saw the fracture then shoot left and right - directly above him as he braced. As the fracture shot left/right, the snow mass above him dragged him down into the chute, lifted him and his axes above the old bed, and piling down above me. The narrowing encased me in snow as I shot past Tim. The train had left the station.
  • By the Book: The futility of the self-arrest attempt turned into an immediate roll onto my back, arms out, to swim to the surface. I wasn't seeing blue sky, but the churning and boiling turned into rapid streaming - like being in a wind-tunnel but moving with the wind. Flail, swim, feet-first - mouth shut tight (it was filling with snow - but not full force as I anticipated it would when we ground to a halt). Then I thought about the Straits of Gibralter and the thought that it was the most likely place for the crash and pile-up.
  • Airborne: i never hit rock. the snow must've streamed over the top (i had noted that the boulders were back-filled on the ascent up). The thoughts were "Oh god i'm airborne...still airborne...still airborne (mental images raced for the likelihood that we'd gone over a vertical drop - but how could be out of the channel?!?)...still airborne ... no longer airborne. The slope was probably around 30-40° which lessened the impact. But there was a sudden compression and I either lost my left axe or threw it. The speed was near maximum. I saw the dark shapes of rocks to climber's right and they were shooting by like guardrails alongside the highway. From memory of biking and a best guess at the distance (15ft) I can confidently say that i was moving between 30 and 40mph. It was like looking out a train window. I was flooded with a massive surge of despair while airborne and a sense of futility on gauging my speed.
  • Self-Arrest: I decided to try self-arrest again - thinking if i could get more of the snow downlsope of me I would stand a better chance of survival. I rolled onto my remaining axe. (Oddly, moving with the snow made rolling over relatively easy). I grabbed that sucker with both hands, dug the blade into the surface and in no time at all found out the one thing i didn't think of at the time: my sudden deceleration caused a powerful buildup of snow above me to blow me off the axe like a cannon. The entire event was explosive: roll, dig, POW!. I don't think I flipped or spun but this was where I got most of the snow in my mouth - facing uphill. Note to self: don't try to self-arrest under the debris. Get to the surface. I can't tell you how deep the avi was. i believe between 3 and 5ft.
  • The Law of Unanticipated Consequences: My heroic attempt at deceleration didn't do squat. There were at least two axes tumbling in the mix and I saw that I was moving just as fast as ever... and looking uphill through the shit I saw 24 crampon points bearing down on me. Um... if Tim isn't slowing, he's passing. The narrow channel aimed him right on my same route. How he missed me I don't know. I rolled onto my back to begin flailing, but the thought of Tim above me was only around for a single, solitary 0.5 seconds because that's when the pain began.
  • In The Trees: We hit hard, fast and repeatedly. Each hit doing damage and reorienting my body. In some cases it was like being whipped, in others like being hit with a bat. Then I struck my head on either a trunk or a rock. It made a 'ringing' or 'bong' sound like dropping a cast-iron frying pan on a hardwood floor. The shock of pain and the subsequent uncontrolled rag-dolling is just a blurred memory at this point. The experience was like a human-Plinko game.
  • Halt (12:31): Things game to a stop, slowly. I was on my back and out into blue sky - still sliding, grabbing at trees, digging into the snow - a few more whips and then stopped. I was on my back, feet pointed generally downhill, left leg high in the branches of a tree, right on the snow, arms out snow-angel style. I sat up and blood sprayed out of my head all over my eyes and down my face. I felt with my hand to see if any skull was missing and coated my glove with blood. Skull was there. I couldn't tell if blood was coming out of my nose, my forehead or both but I held my hand on my head and looked around. Tim was 6 feet away, against some trees. He was moaning/screaming in pain.
  • Assessment: I couldn't move closer - we were on loose debris and I couldn't get my leg out of the branches. Tim was starting to black out and was fighting it. I shouted 'We're good, we're stable - you're just fainting - don't worry' thinking 'oh god, his spleen is burst' and used both hands to get my leg out and immediately began to slide. I jammed my right heel into the snow and stopped - but also knew for the first time that my right foot was sprained. That one hurt. I got alongside Tim and grabbed his hand and told him to squeeze it. I have no idea why I did that. I guess I thought that feeling another person might help him - us - it helped me - closest thing to jumping up and down and hugging Bob Barker. Our arms were bleeding my head was bleeding. I had been wearing a t-shirt and Tim a long-sleeve shirt but an ultra-thin base-layer. I had been wearing BD ice-climbing gloves which save my hand from scratches - he had been bare-handed. See Tim's hands for more on this. And then there was to idiot shouting to his buddy. Some guy was shouting 'Climber's! Climber's! To your LEFT! I'm coming to you!". What the f**k kind of thing is that to shout? It suddenly dawned on me that somebody had witnessed the descent so I turned and waived and yelled "Please!". I had to pee so bad I began to leak so I rolled over and peed in the snow - no blood in my urine - but little spurts of blood popped onto the snow from my head/nose.
  • Aftermath: I grabbed my camera out and took a shot of Tim slipping in and out of consciousness and of myself - totally bloody and dazed. I considered getting out my 10m rope and trying to slide Tim down the hill - but figured this guy coming over could help. Luke, caretaking at the Cabin and equipped with radio and pack (and on skis) worked his way over to us. I took a picture of him too. I told him what I could and he did a careful spinal eval on me and then on Tim - and radioed down to Jeff and Kevin that he was on the scene. They were heading up Hillman's and were on the scene within 10 minutes or so. I put on my beanie to stop the blood and began putting on every layer I had before I lost core temperature. Tim did the same but the descent was iffy. We were a hundred yards or more from where the steep channel joined Hillmans and we had to front-point down. Tim was barely able to walk and I didn't know how much blood I lost - but you just move automatically. Luke, Jeff and Kevin made us seats lower down and redid the physical assessments before we headed down to the cabin. They told us that people on the deck had spotted the avalanche and the bodies and everyone with binocs locked onto our position. Kevin lent me his axe and off we went.
  • The Cabin: Jeff lead me back. The trail leads up to the skiers/climbers deck area which was packed. I didn't know my face was covered with blood and it was weird how as we walked by (bearing left to go to the main cabin) there was not a sound from the people gathered there. I seem to recall everyone standing very still and staring - but nobody said a word - they were like frozen statues. The only thing anyone said to us were some young snowboarders on Hillman's who said something like "Dude, you were in that? You lived?"
  • The End: We spent a few hours in the cabin while Jeff and Kevin cleaned us up and bandaged us - all the while checking Tim for coherence (he got white, sweaty and dizzy) and filling out the accident reports. One of the discussion topics that kept coming up was sincere interest in details of the ordeal, in particular details of the snowpack behavior. The pic at right was taken by the guys and posted to tuckerman.org. We tried rehydrating and eating and I turned white after eating half of my sandwich. After all the cleanup Chris drove us down with Cutler the cadaver dog in the snow-cat. We left Tim's car at the Notch and I drove to the hospital in St. J., calling friends and family on our phones. The prognosis: Tim's passing out was trauma shock, not head injury. He bruised his pelvis and suffered MCL damage. He has small cuts and scratches all over his face. His arms and hands are wrapped like a burn victim's. I changed his bandages today and he's a mess. Also his knuckles and hands are shredded and fingers are swollen. I have a broken pinkie, similar (although less severe) lacerations on the arms, a badly sprained right ankle, a damaged left MCL, a severely bruised right quad, a cut over my left eye, a black eye and minor cuts, bruises and scratches everywhere. We stocked up on bandages at the pharmacy today while I was getting my Vicodin scrip filled.
The USFS and AMC guys were professional. They were kind and careful. I think that it must be common to get babbling panic out of crash victims but they haven't met mister 'God, does he ever shut up?'. To our credit, Tim and I gave them such detailed accounts that it was clear they could rely on us as good witnesses to our own accident... to a point. The perception of time thing is all messed up. But I'll tell you, seeing Lukas ski over through the trees changed despair to relief. These guys are top-notch.

Pictures can be found HERE.

Here's one from today's avi bulletin: "Yesterday we had two climbers take a long fall from the top of Dodge's Drop when they triggered a thin isolated pocket of cold windslab high in the start zone. Both were beat up but remarkably okay after taking the ride that I have nightmares about whenever I enjoy that line. We'll have an accident report up on tuckerman.org later today."


What's Next?

As we get back into the pace of our normal routines, the question arises: What's next? Well, while spring is slowly creeping back in down here in the valley, things are still cranking up high. In today's USFS avi bulletin I read that the rain made deep slush which is now frozen solid.

"The mountain has received quite a bit of rain lately as well as some
slushy snow. All of that water has now transformed to the frozen state and it isn't likely to get anywhere near the melting point today. The skiing conditions
are terrible and long sliding falls are a real concern. Bring crampons, an ice
axe and the ability to use these tools in order to safely travel in steep

Annual springtime hazards such as undermined snow, icefall, and
crevasses are becoming an issue. The weather for the rest could make each of
these hazards more problematic. That being said, the snowpack is holding up
pretty well and there is plenty of good skiing left in this season. Be aware of
your surroundings and take the time to identify potential hazards. The Little
Headwall is now impassable due to open water. There are ways to ski out of the
Bowl but they can be tricky. Either walk down from the Ravine to Hermit Lake on
the trail or expect some route finding adventures while traveling on an
undermined snowpack."

This means we need to head up to the ravines for some fun. The downside is that the forecast for this weekend is looking a little murky, although Saturday doesn't look too awful - maybe a little sprinkle down low and low visibility up high... but nothing to be afraid of.

There's also Friday 4/10 - (sun in the forecast)