(from June 4, 2011)
Despite the fact that I’m trying not to think about it, the bruises on my elbows and knees won’t let me forget. I took my first real live cravasse fall today while out for a short ski patrol to check on glacial travel conditions. True to the nature of glaciers, the live situation did not mirror all the training we’ve done lately, and the situation was bad.
The slot (cravasse) I was in was running parallel to our direction of travel, only 20″ wide (just wider than my shoulders), and 12 feet below the surface- full of bottomless ice cold water. Due to the direction of the travel, the rope didn’t catch my fall and cut through the snow directly up towards my partner. I stopped falling when I hit the water and started floating, and despite my initial calm of falling in the hole, I knew I was in deep when I hit the water and took stock of the situation.
JP did his best to stop the fall, but the direction of the crack really meant neither JP or the rope were useful for self-rescue- I was floating until my team could get another rope to me. Ultimately the details are small, I got cold, another team was able to help us, I got out of the crack, someone from the other team went into another crack in the process, and our mini afternoon ski patrol turned into a mini epic. I got back to camp, got warm, and spent some time thinking that the Muldrow glacier is probably going to offer a very serious challenge indeed. Many thanks to Chris, JP, and the other team for their assistance in pulling me out of a really tight spot. The only true victim was my fancy new camera which took the swim with me and now makes for an expensive looking paper weight (and hence there are no photos for this post).
In retrospect, it was an incredibly valuable experience. I learned a lot, no one was seriously injured, and I walked away feeling more in control of the fears I have long carried about cravasse falls because I took the ride, didn’t die, and walked away. Training does not replace experience.