17 December 2006

Timberline: Sun, A Couple Sled Runs, And Some Bad News

First, the bad news. One of the missing climbers was found dead in a snow cave on Mt. Hood. They haven't identified him yet. You've probably heard and seen the news.

UPDATE: Of course by now everyone following the story knows it was Kelly James' body that was recovered. Sounds like a lack of resources is now causing the search for Cooke and Hall to be scaled back. Naturally, I'd assume also that avalanche danger in the area they'd be looking is probably pretty high at this point, which would put would-be rescuers on the ground at significant risk.

Mt. Hood, from the Timberline parking lot, somewhere around 7:50am. That speck in the upper left is the C-130 Hercules that was orbiting the mountain on and off all day helping in the search.

On a brighter note, I finally brought my camera up to the mountain on a nice day. So of course, I shot a panorama. This one is from the top of the Stormin' Norman lift. That's Mt. Jefferson in the background on the left.

The day started off pretty much like any other day I've shadowed with the patrol. A few familiar faces, including our Training Director (JG), and I met a few new folks as well. We got our opening assignments and off we went to do some opening procedures over at the Stormin' Norman lift. As we skied over to the bottom of Norman, I heard and saw 2 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters flying toward Timberline. Today's the day, I thought, they'll find someone. Hopefully all of them.

After finishing opening procedures, we sat on bump for a bit. I hauled out the camera and started shooting. I managed to capture a better look at the C-130 as it circled overhead. Today was one of those days I wish I had a 10x zoom instead of a measly 3x.

The mighty Herc circles high above Mt. Hood

After some time on bump, JG came by and rounded a few of us newbies and some other patrollers up to do what's called the Sign Run. Basically, when you close down a lift for the day, and there are other lifts in the area still running, you have to close off the trails to the closed lift, or else people will ski/ride down to a lift they can't take to get back up high enough to get back to the lodge. Norman is a great example of this, where you have to mark off a fairly large region of the area. There is one simple way to do all of that signage work, and that is the Sign Run. It's one of those things that you could try to describe to people, but it's better if you show them. JG's a good teacher, and did a great job of showing us not only the where, but explaining the why.

A few more runs over at Norman and it was time to head in for lunch. After a brief lunch, I did another run over at Norman and met up with JG, who had indicated we could do some sled training in the afternoon. Over to Molly's Express we went, and I got some tips and tricks (the "gorilla stance") that hadn't been imparted to me yet by any of my previous sled trainers.

Anyway, I got rolling with an empty sled at first, so I wouldn't have to try and drag JG in the sled up the rise just below the upper part of Molly's. Once we got to some steeps, he had me do some familiarization turns and stuff, then he hopped in the sled.

The first steep patch went okay, except for the sled brake not engaging when I dropped it the first time - it had caught on the front left corner of the sled. Fortunately, we weren't going fast, and I'm a strong enough skier that I could stop the sled and get the brake engaged.

The rest of the run went relatively smooth, and the only place I felt the sled almost get away from me was when we went over a bump that caused the nose of the sled (and thus the drag brake) to come off the snow a bit. Once the nose came down, I got better control and down the pitch we went. I'm getting the hang of it, and I'm starting to take smarter lines with the sled.

Once we got done with the upper pitches, JG had me try a maneuver called the 'wheelbarrow', where you cause the tail of the sled to wash out on you to the point where you drive it backwards to get the tail skegs to catch in the snow so you can regain control. It's like taking your car to a snowy parking lot and sliding the tail around. I didn't quite do it right, because once I felt the sled wash out on me, I immediately pulled up on the handles, which because they were locked, caused the skegs to catch and arrest the slide. I did get a good feel for how even an empty sled can get away from you if you aren't careful.

After that, JG got in the handles and put me on the tail rope to give me some work behind the sled. He had me basically braking him and the empty sled without the drag brake, then practice quick transitions (changing sides during a sideslip). He's a pretty big guy, I'd say 6'3", 220 or so, so him plus a 70lb sled is a pretty decent load to try and halt downhill progress thereof. A good stable stance and strong edging fundamentals (thanks, SNSC coaches) helped me handle that exercise without any trouble.

After rigging and uploading, we did a second run, and JG asked me if I wanted to try and do a loaded run through some trees in the steeps. Of course I couldn't resist the challenge. So, after some more unloaded sled driving, JG found a nice little steep pitch in the trees for me to try. In the relatively untracked trees, the drag brake isn't of much use, so it's more important to take a good line, stay in a strong stance, and be focused. I managed to get JG down the pitch without dumping him. Here's a shot of it from the bottom. You can't really get a good feel for how steep it was, but it was a pretty good little drop.

A little steep 'n' deep (well not that deep) with a loaded sled

I earned a little praise after that one, so I chalked it up as a success, and imagined it to be a nice little preview of some of the stuff over at the upper bowl that I'll get to run in January when our official sled training days resume. After that, JG had me try a few more wheelbarrows, but I never quite let the sled get far enough around to drive it backwards like I was supposed to. But the exercise underscored the need to maintain control of the sled.

After fun in the sun with the sled, we returned it to the top of Molly's, and I headed over to meet up with the rest of the patrollers assigned to Norman for sweep. I took a run over there, and then assisted with sweep. Once that was done, we swept Pucci, and called it a day.

Sun begins to set on Mt. Hood. You can just barely see a CH-47 Chinook (AKA "Big Windy") up at the summit area.

The snow was just incredible all day, and while it was pretty cold, the sun was shining and the views spectacular. Exactly the kind of day I'd been hoping I'd remember my camera for. The only damper was finding out about the dead climber on the way back up the Pucci lift after sweep.

Couldn't avoid taking this one. I loved the way the sun and the clouds looked as I stood at the top of Pucci taking in the view. Some shots are just too pretty to pass up, even when you're tired and it's getting cold and you're hungry.

Just a look back, towards the Ski Bowl, at sunset. Note the lights for night skiing at the bowl.

One happy camper after a great day with the patrol. The grin is because I know I'm headed down to Charlie's for a brew and some dinner with some great people - Mt. Hood Ski Patrollers.
I love me some me. And some sunset.