Saturday, 19 March 2016

Personal Arctic Preparation part 2



We survived our Arctic preparation in the Alps but it was a close thing! The magnificent Wildspitze was chosen as the final objective of our ski mountaineering trip to the Alps and it started well.
We reached the top of the glacier in good time and donned crampons to scramble up the last 70 metres to the summit. Unfortunately that's when things started to go awry.

We had forgotten to readjust Sally's crampons to fit her new touring boots so, when they came off for the second time just 15 metres short of the summit, we decided to retreat. A decision made all the easier by the fact that our crampon faff had allowed 2 massive guided and roped parties to get ahead.

Back at the ski depot we took off the skins and prepared to ski down but my pin bindings had iced up which made it tricky to put my skis on. With the ski in uphill mode and with the break disengaged my boot slipped out of the binding and the slid off down the glacier on its solo voyage to who knows where?

So now we were in a bit of a pickle. I set off on foot carrying my one remaining ski whilst Sally skied off to try and find out the fate of my escaped ski. About 100 metres down the glacier Sally yelled back that she could see my ski which was a huge relief given that we were then at the top of a 2,000m ski descent which would have been a very, very long walk in soft snow over numerous crevasses.

As I got closer to Sally I noticed she appeared to be sitting in the snow which seemed curious then, finally, I realised she was partly down a crevasse desperately clinging to the downhill lip. I quickly set up a ski belay and threw a rope to her but she said she couldn't move to tie herself on. So I sent her a bite of rope down and gently pulled her towards me which resulted in screams of anguish as that had the effect of pulling her away from the downhill lip. Not a good plan!

There was nothing for it but for me to crawl over the un-collapsed part of the snow bridge to get below her then climb back up to pull her out from below. I quickly got her tied on and began to pull but her ski was rotated the wrong way in the crevasse and every time I pulled it twisted her leg the wrong way! I managed to get one of her skis off but the other  was rendering her inextricable.

Time to yell for help! 

I tried every language I could think of but mostly got ignored by my fellow ski mountaineers which was not an edifying experience. At last someone crawled up to join me at the downhill lip where I had Sally firmly belayed. He was then able to reach down and remove the obstructing ski. A tug on the rope and out she popped. Phew!

Somewhat chastened  by all these experiences we got on our way and, after a magnificent 2,000m glacier descent in mostly good snow, emerged onto the piste at the Skishulle Hutte and a very welcome hot chocolate to settle the nerves.