|Ready to get steep, photo by Kel Rossiter|
My hiking crew and I recently spent 2 bluebird days working on basic mountaineering skills in Huntington Ravine with Kelly “Kel” Rossiter from Adventure Spirit Rock + Ice + Alpine Experiences. We covered a huge range of topics including crampon use, self-arrest, snow anchors, crevasse rescue and mountaineering nutrition. This jam packed training session helped us build the foundation of mountaineering skills that we will need to safely attempt an unguided climb of Mount Rainier.
I have had the good fortune to hike with the same 5 person crew for the past several years. During that time we have bagged many of NH’s 4,000 foot peaks as we became a close knit climbing team. We have decided to make an unguided attempt to climb Mount Rainier in July 2012. At 14.410 feet Mount Rainier is one of the more popular mountaineering objectives in the lower 48. However its steep slopes, unpredictable weather and glaciers combined with crevasse and avalanche dangers make it a formidable challenge. Therefore my crew hired Kel to show us the mountaineering essentials that we will need to safely climb Rainier.
Kel Rossiter has over 12 years of outdoor guiding experience along with numerous certifications and he is an expert on everything related to rock, ice and alpine climbing. Kel’s climbing resume includes peaks in 12 countries throughout 4 continents as well as a Denali and many Rainier summits. He also works as a guide for Rainier Mountaineering Inc. Oh yeah; he is an extremely personable and humorous guy which made it a lot of fun to work with him. Because of all this we felt that Kel has the perfect skillset to help prepare us for a safe Rainier ascent.
|Busy day at Pinkham|
Our plan was to meet Kel at Pinkham Notch and spend 2 days training in Huntington Ravine. The forecast called for temps in the high 40s with plenty of sun which is ideal learning weather. We arrived at Pinkham Notch at 7:30 am on Saturday morning to find a parking lot full of skiers who were preparing to squeeze out a few more runs before winter melts away.
|Setting the day’s objectives|
Kel was waiting in the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center with a pile of mountaineering gear. After a pleasant introduction he reviewed our objectives for the weekend. This was great since everyone was on the same page right from the start. We then divided the ice tools, carabiners, ropes, avalanche probes, transponders and shovels and headed for Huntington Ravine. Along the way we had a pleasant discussion with Kel about mountaineering.
We stopped at Harvard Cabin to set up camp and stow non-essential gear before making the 20 minute trek to the base of the ravine.
|Its still winter here|
I was amazed to see that there was still some snow left in the ravine since it has been such a warm winter.
|Kel showing us how to self arrest|
The first goal of the day was to work on self-arrest and team arrest which are 2 of the most essential mountaineering skills. Kel brought us to a moderately steep slope where we could safely practice. He explained the basics of each movement involved in a self or team arrest.
After that we took turns practicing it.
We received valuable feedback after each attempt until we had the movements nailed down.
We then headed a little farther up into the ravine to work on snow anchors and crevasse rescue.
|Setting an anchor, photo by Kel Rossiter|
Kel showed us that everything from an ice axe to a snow filled stuff sack can be used as a snow anchor if it is placed right. He then had us place and test a few anchors.
|Simulating a crevasse rescue|
Crevasses are a very real danger on Mount Rainier. Therefore crevasse rescue is one of the most critical safety skills; especially for a team that is climbing unguided. Kel showed us how to secure the fallen climber and how to set up the rope system to pull him/ her to safety. Once the system is set up it takes surprisingly little effort to actual pull the fallen climber to safety. We then took turns being the rescuer. This concluded our first training day as the sun was beginning to set.
|A clear night|
We packed up our gear and headed back to our campsite next to Harvard Cabin. With temps in the 40s we were able to leisurely cook and enjoy a hearty dinner. The sky was totally clear so we left the rainfly off the tent and slept under the stars. I don’t know if it was the weather or the fact that I was exhausted but I fell asleep almost as soon as I got in my sleeping bag.
Kel woke us up at 6 am the next day so we could quickly get back into the ravine to continue training. The agenda for day 2 was to work on roped travel and avalanche awareness.
|Kel shows up the ropes|
We picked a steep slope, at the base of Pinnacle Gully as our classroom for the day. Traveling as a rope team is critical in glacial and crevasse areas. Kel explained the fundamentals of roped travel and he took the time to answer all of our questions.
|Traveling as a team, photo by Kel Rossiter|
We then practiced climbing up the ravine as a rope team. Being tied to my fellow climbers added a whole new dynamic to the climbing experience. As a rope team we all had to move and act as one unit moving at one pace. As we ascended Kel would occasionally tug on the rope to simulate a fall which gave us a chance to practice team arrests. We learned how to correctly step over the rope, conduct hip belays and how to shorten or lengthen the rope as needed. Kel also showed us how to “pressure breathe” and use rest steps to increase our climbing efficiency.
We were moving as an effective team once we were 2/3 of the way up the ravine which meant it was time to descend. It would have been fun to top out but this weekend was about maximizing the educational experience. Kel showed us how to safely descend steep by using a wide stance with solid footing. I was amazed at how far my group had come in just a day and a half.
Our final objective was to discuss avalanche awareness, safety and rescue. Kel intelligently explained what type of slopes are avalanche prone as well as how to spot recent avalanche activity. He then showed us how to dig a snow pit to analyze an area’s avalanche risk. I was amazed to see that he snowpack shows the characteristics of each storm from the winter which gave us a very good indicator of the current avalanche risk.
|Kel shows us how to use an avalanche probe|
The best avalanche safety approach is not to get caught in an avalanche but this is not always possible in mountaineering situations. Kel showed us how to use avalanche transponders, probes and shovels to locate and rescue a buried avalanche victim. Teamwork is critical here because the window of survival is less than 15 minutes for an avalanche victim. That is not a lot of time to locate someone and dig them out of 6 or more feet of snow. Hopefully we will never need to use our avalanche rescue skills but I am glad we learned them.
Kel concluded our training by recapping the huge list of everything we had learned in the past two days. We then began our trek down to Pinkham Notch. The snow, which had been baking in the sun for a few days, was extremely soft which caused many of us to post-hole up to our waists on the way out. As we headed down the temperature increased and the snow disappeared.
Kel Rossiter proved to be the perfect choice for our mountaineering education needs. He has an obvious alpine passion combined with a wealth of experience that he loves sharing with others. By the end of our trip it felt like Kel was an old friend who just happened to know a lot more about mountaineering than anyone else! I highly recommend reaching out to him if you want to take your alpine, ice or rock climbing to the next level.
New England Outside received no incentive from Adventure Spirit Rock + Ice + Alpine experiences to write this review.