Wednesday, September 19, 2018

2018/09/17 - My Day in the Sun

Since I intend for this blog to be a self biography, I really should include the story of my helping to rescue a ranger on Mount Rainer. If I had to pick a day in my life so far that I’m most proud of, it would be this day.

The storm started rolling in as we set up our tents at Camp Muir (10,188’) on Mount Rainier. We were prepared for a bad night, but this was the worst so far that we had experienced. Luckily we had all the proper equipment and training to survive the night.

We discussed our options, and realized that in these whiteout conditions, we were best to just hunker down and wait it out.

But then the ranger came over to the tent area and announced that he had spent the worst night of his life inside the ranger hut and worried it was going to blow away. He said that he done the hike so many times, that he could get down blindfolded. He said he was heading down in an hour if anybody wanted to follow. Then he proceeded to make the announcement inside the bunk house. I don’t think anybody stayed behind.

There were approximately 50 climbers following the ranger down. The route from the TH to Camp Muir was all trail across snowfields and dirt, without and any travel on glacier. Therefore we were avoiding the danger of crevasses and cliff areas, as long as we stayed on trail.

I think I was third in line, trailing a heavy sled in training for an upcoming expedition to Denali.

All of a sudden the woman in front of me screamed! In the total whiteout condition, the ranger had walked right off a cliff. He just disappeared in the fog.

There was a mountaineering class in our group of 50 strangers, and the instructor of the class immediately assumed a leadership role for the whole group of 50. He announced “Get your harnesses on!”

We all scrambled through out packs and sleds looking for our harnesses, and quickly tried to pit them on over all the clothing we were wearing. The leader then shouted “Does anybody have there’s on yet?” No one replied as I was just finishing getting mine on.

Now there was a second there where this day could have turned. I could have turned out to be the coward instead of the hero. Luckily I knew I could never forgive myself and shouted back “I got mine on!” He then instructed me to set up an anchor, and rapell down to the ranger.

My partner Terri and I rose to the occasion. Using the system we had practiced so much, we quickly set up a snow anchor using three pickets, and I free rappelled down to the ranger.

When I reached him, I connected him to my harness using a daisy chain and locking carabiner. I wish I had a picture of the look of relief on his face. Then I proceeded to set up an anchor for myself, so that I could detach myself from the rope and attach the ranger. Then the group on top could pull him up, and afterwards throw the rope back down to me and pull me up.

I remember laughing as I heard someone above shouting “Now it’s the big guy!”. Once on top I was a hero. Everyone was patting me on my back. It was a wonderful feeling, one that was unfamiliar to me. 

We had no choice but to retreat back to Camp Muir. In the continuing snowfall and whiteout conditions, we were lucky to be able to follow our tracks back. 

Back at Camp Muir we all piled in to the bunkhouse, which was now overcrowded with the original bunkhouse residents plus the tent people. 

Eventually the rescue team arrived, and they singled me out to come to the ranger hut. Basically they wanted an accident report, but for the time, I was there, and I was a almost a ranger, welcome to ranger food (salami and cheese while we pleebs ate ramen), and ranger cool talk. It reminded me of the Boy Scouts hanging with the older guys. 

But the best moment of all was when my friend Geoff came to the ranger hut, and although he wasn’t welcome to join the big boys, he mimed holding a softball, signaling to me “huge balls”.

That was my day in the sun. 

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