Tinemaha - E face
Saturday, April 13, 2019 - 12:30pm
This report is from the person that triggered and was caught in the wet slide on 4/13 on Tinemaha that was previously reported by another party that was down lower on the slope.
I got caught approximately at (1) in the picture, escaped the slide somehow at (2) and the slide stopped at (3), 3500-4000ft below.
I had topped off on the Southern side of the summit ridge(I climbed the more Southern of the east facing gullies thinking it would be better conditions than the normal route, which has a more northerly aspect up high on the route). The other party had climbed the standard route and was already at the top, more in the Center of the ridge one gully over. This was already late(~12:15?) and even later when I skied (~12:30?)
Earlier, climbing up the gully, I had minimal boot penetration in general – the S side of the gully had been swept clean down to the old layer by wind, and the N Side had some pockets of 1-4 inch deposit of wintery snow (some soft, some windboard). One large face between 10k and 11k that was more Southerly had fully gone the cycle with no deposits left and all rounded grains. Almost no boot penetration when I climbed it. Was totally stoked and thought I had plenty of time since the clean side of the gully was more northerly and had such a hard freeze still.
I got to the top of this gully at about 10:45, and only beyond that point above ~11.8k or so when I traversed around the final ridge to the S. Summit did I find any deeper snow, and nothing more than 1-1.5ft at most, other than the typical sugary snow around rocks. There was one section in this more northerly portion when I found some minimal wetness on the top layer sitting above the colder wintery snow below. I only remember this because for that one 5-10 minute section, the moist snow on top caused balling of the dry snow to my crampons, even with anti-balling plates.
At the summit I asked the party in the other gully how the snow was. They said something to the effect that it was moist, but they thought it would be ok. I took the “moist” remark as a warning and based on the time I was already a little worried about skiing that side and aspect. But I thought it was manageable. I watched them ski from the top of their gully, go out of view and then re-appear 1000ft below through a notch on the ridge between us. My plan was to ski to the ridge between our gully’s and see how their tracks look in that gully and maybe ask to join them. I thought even if there was a wet slide In my gully, I’d already be on the relative safety of the ridge by the time it got going. I didn’t want to ski the gully directly below me because it had rocks in it and I didn’t know if it went. The only pictures I had were from last week and it was before the slides of April 8th on this site. Reversing the ridge to the gully I came up would have been great skiing, but I was lazy at this point and took the easiest path, and didn’t want to lose more time. (But the laziness was probably #1 J)
I knew the snow at the top just below where I put on my ski’s was windboard from checking it out. This was a steeper (low 40’s?) and closer to northerly aspect and the windboard lasted for another 5-10 turns until I got to a more N.Easterly aspect. I remember doing 3-5 (?) turns at full speed as I came closer to the safety of the ridge between the gullies. I think that section was now less steep (high 30’s?). The next stuff happened really fast, and I the details are as best as I can remember.
I believe I was maybe 1-2 seconds away from the ridge, at high speed on the final turn going across the slope to the ridge, when I felt something and noticed snow sliding over the tip of my ski’s. I remember thinking that “my sluff caught me, and I better ski out of it”. But I was confused because I related the “sluff catching you experience” to only wintertime/dry snow, and couldn’t figure out how a wet slide could catch me when I was skiing so fast and traversing. By the time I completed that thought (and I –think-- I tried to do something, but can’t remember what), it was a full on river of snow, very much like white water rapids. I thought it was 2ft deep or so, that’s what my brain recorded, but I’m not sure. (BTW, If it was a wet slab, I didn’t see any cracking in front)
At that point I realized that: 1) I was caught, and 2) it was accelerating uncontrollably. It was a shocking feeling. On those thoughts I’m 1000% certain of my memory. By the time I had completed that thought, I looked downhill and saw the first band of rocks coming at me; really fast, and direct. This next part is truly a blur and hazy at best. I’d guess it all happened in 1-3 seconds, maybe less(?). I think I tried to self-arrest in the hopes of planting a ski pole through the snow to the base. I think this didn’t work and I lost both ski poles at that time. I think I then rolled over to my right to try to get off of the slide. I’m guessing I was very close to the edge of the slide, and that I must have dug my hands into the non-moving snow, but I don’t remember this at all. I do remember kicking my left boot in (at some point that ski was gone too, leaving that leg free and the other with one ski on), and this somehow stopped me. Oh, btw, I went over the first set of rocks while rolling over and was surprised that there was no pain. I think that the rocks were too parallel with the slope, and the snow that I was riding on was a buffer between them and I.
I had stopped at a steeper section (low 40’s?) right at the choke and 4ft above the next set of rocks. The slide was 1-2ft to the right of my face and just kept going like a train. I remember that the sound really scared me at the time, but I can’t remember what it sounded like at all now. It felt like it just kept coming from above and I kept expecting it to widen its path and take me over the rocks (when is it going to happen?). When it finally started to slow, I looked downslope and saw it gushing through the lower slope already 2000ft below me and much, much wider. Below the choke on this route it is fairly low angle (~30 degrees?), but it still didn’t stop and ran out of sight through the two notch chutes lower on the mountain.
At that point I couldn’t see any of my other gear in the slopes below me, and I couldn’t see above me due to the steep roll-over. I got my ice axe out and put my single ski on my pack and booted up a bit to get above the roll-over to see if I could find my gear. I think it was at this point (maybe 5-10 minutes after the slide) that I saw the other party 1000-1500ft below come out of the other gully and crossed the slide debris coming into my view. They yelled something, but I couldn’t understand what. I think I waved and said I lost my ski and resumed climbing back up. I think I assumed that even if they couldn’t hear me, if they saw me climbing they’d know I’m ok. I’m not sure at all though—such a blur. Maybe I was in shock. At some point they came back into view with my ski and stood it up straight. I’m not sure if I kept climbing to look for my poles or not, but eventually I started down climbing until I got to the 2nd set of rocks. Btw, the snow climbing back up was either on the old slide path with very minimal (1 inch?) boot toe piece only penetration or on snow that hadn’t slid, which I think was 8-12 inches of semi-soft snow that my boot cut through until again you hit the crust with little penetration. It was fine w/o crampons, only because I had my axe.
The area of the choke with the 2nd , lower set of rocks was completely scraped clean by the slide. It was a mix of water ice for the most part, or rock bands with snow intermixed, which I assumed had rocks thinly under the surface. The rocks in the slide path were not down climbable, and the water ice looked thin over the rocks and already had water running own over it. (And as I edited this mail and look at the picture I can’t help wonder if the rockband I skied through above where I was caught had rock warming and water running as well). I didn’t want to down climb the water ice and have it break and fall w/crampons on. There was some easy (class 3/4) blocky ledges that made up the wall of the chute that I could down climb for 15-25(?)feet until I got to the hard slide path (snow again), so this is what I did. After I finally got through the choke, I was able to walk down to my ski 1000? ft. below me and then ski down with just my ice axe until I found my first pole (2000ft below the choke?) and my final pole maybe another 500ft below that. Not sure at all. I was just happy to have all of the gear and felt I was finally safe.
Well, I’m sure you’ll see a lot of mistakes I made in there. One issue was that I had summit fever that day and instead of skiing down from the top of the gully (11,800) before my turnaround of 11am on what I knew were likely pretty safe conditions at that time, I decided to climb the ridge and ski off of the top onto slopes(different aspects) I hadn’t climbed or checked. The other thing is that even though the other party warned me that it was moist, I didn’t take the time to go over to the more direct easterly part of that gully and try to push it from the top. No idea why I didn’t do that. Done it a thousand times before. Not to mention that I chose to climb solo on this route (summit fever) instead of skiing up at Convict with a crew that invited me that day. Also: thinking we can control more than we really can: I remember after I stood up thinking “wow, I really must have made the right decisions that caused me to stop”. But on the long car ride back home, I went through it a thousand times – it wasn’t skill, it was just dumb luck: if I got placed in the slide at the start again 50 different times, on 49 of them I would have went over the rocks no matter what other thing I did. Too much speed, too powerful of a flow. I just got lucky with the 1 out of 50 on that day. The only valid option was to have skied from the top of the gully at 11am and not risk getting caught.
Not really sure how bad the mangle potential would have been if I hadn’t had stopped. Seemed like the slide fanned out and thinned lower, so maybe no burial(?). And I’d guess I’d have gone over the 2nd set of rock bands with the same cushion between me and the snow as the first band(?). It’s spring so I was wearing my rock climbing helmet. Not sure if I’d had stayed on top and avoided getting churned in the slide with any leg/ligament damage(?). So maybe the fear that I had in this story was more in my head than in reality. But man it was scary to me then, and I’m trying to remember it that way so I don’t make the same mistakes in the future. I’m embarrassed that this happened and almost didn’t post this, but thought others might learn from my mistakes.
P.s. I’m grateful to the other party for finding my ski and checking on me after the slide. Sorry about the rock, but glad you heard me yell. I was careful with my feet and hands, testing holds, etc., but my ski pushed a football sized rock off of a ledge when I leaned into the wall to grab a hand hold. That first rock dislodged the bigger rock below. And thanks to ESAC for all you do!