Three days into our AMGA ski-mountaineering course and it’s going well. The weather isn’t cooperating, but Thompson Pass, above Valdez, had a great year. Though most of their snow was early on, many of the crevasses are still filled in and we should get some corn if the sun comes out.
Day 1 was the exam for sled rescue and transceiver searching. The sled drill involves building a rescue sled, putting the patient securely in it, building an anchor, then lowering the sled one rope length, before building another anchor and transferring the sled’s weight onto it. Once there, you pull the rope from the first anchor, then begin another lower, but this time the examiners throw a knot in the rope and you have to pass the knot through your lowering system, using whatever technique is safe/effective. You’re allotted 70 minutes to complete all the steps.A “victim” bundled in the sled, with a candidate preparing to lower the rescue sled onto the slope.
My rescue drill went flawlessly, until the very last step. I had successfully passed the knot and as I lowered the patient I noticed the rope had thrown a slip knot around the cordelette I’d used to help pass the knot. My examiner at that moment was Vince Anderson, Piolets d’Or winner, uber-athlete, all-around nice guy and so we had a quick pow-wow about the implications. In a rock scenario, you must retrieve the cord to pass the rescue test, but the ski rules aren’t quite so rigid. I was under time for my drill to that point, so we’ll see what he decides.A candidate has built his second anchor, using skis buried in the snow. Vince Anderson looks on.
My transceiver exam went well and big thanks to Andy Wenberg and the crew at Backcountry Access for helping me get dialed. The drill puts three buried beacons in a 100 ft. by 100 ft. area and candidates have seven minutes to locate all three. Some people choose to dig up each beacon and turn it off, thereby reducing the number of signals one has to differentiate. It’s far faster, however, to either “mark” each beacon (if your transceiver has that function, which my BCA Tracker 2 does not–thankfully!) or to just make a mental note of that beacon’s location and keep track of it as you walk away, watching your distance readings go up.
I’d practiced a bunch, with fellow candidate Joey “The Matador” Thompson, so I didn’t feel the need to dig up and turn off beacons. Instead, I used a fairly tight grid pattern in my search, hoping to pass by each beacon in close enough proximity to get a strong signal and lock onto it. This approach caters to the strengths of the Tracker 2–you can keep moving quickly and the beacon never (and I mean *never*) gets bogged down with too many signals or too much information. I found all three beacons in just under three minutes and thirty seconds. Any faster and I think I’d start losing accuracy as I get closer to each beacon, so I’m psyched.The Cherry Couloir snakes from the summit of Python, to the glacier below.
Day two we practiced crevasse rescue, up at the flank of the Worthington Glacier. Cold in the morning, but on the whole a cool day. In the afternoon we used some rope techniques on the glacier, practicing uphill and downhill travel. Downhill travel, while roped, sucks. Avoid at all costs.
We skied the Cherry Couloir, off Python Peak, today. It was bulletproof at the top and it was less than relaxing. I got a bit more nerve in the middle of the couloir, once we had some better edge penetration with the skis…but man, falling at the top would be U-G-L-Y.
Tomorrow we’re headed to ski something called R.F.S. Pics and exaggerated tales of heroism to follow.