August 9, 2009 – White River Glacier, Crevasse Rescue Practice

A unique training opportunity presented itself to practice glacier travel and crevasse rescue skills on Mt Hood’s White River Glacier with the Santiam Alpine Club and I was happy to take advantage of the practice. I didn’t bring my board along for the trip, but wished I would have after seeing the lower glacier, where there was ample room to make turns. Crevasse rescue skills are valuable to know and essential to practice, but I hope to avoid having to use them in real life. A group of about 8 of us set out from the climbers lot at Timberline Lodge around 7:30am in the morning and started hiking along the dirt trail leading up the mountain to the White River Glacier.

Packs loaded and ready for climbing
When we reached the edge of the White River Canyon, we encountered snow (at about 7200 feet) and roped up for the practice. We continued along and up the glacier’s edge, then out onto the middle of the glacier, finding a large crevasse suitable for practicing skills near 8000 feet. After a quick break, We broke into two teams of 4, each setting up 3:1 pulley system. Placing the pickets in the snow required a bit of work, but after digging with the ice axes and covering the pickets with snow, they were set. The rope was attached to the anchor, then we took turns rappelling down into the crevasse. Here’s a shot of me in the bottom after rappelling…..

Matt at the bottom of a large White River crevasse
The 3:1 pulley system worked well, but required two to three people to haul one person out of the hole. It was bit easier once we set up a 5:1 system. Here’s a few shots of the action….

Rappelling into the crevasse
Not a bad spot to hang out
The shot below was taken from the bottom of the crevasse, at least the bottom from where we were at (it appeared to be pure ice below the dirt and rock at the bottom).

The view from the hole

After spending most of the day practicing the systems, we unroped and hiked across the glacier to take in the views and relax. The east side of the glacier was relatively flat, and in one spot there was quite a bit of meltwater running down the surface in a cool little channel.

Meltwater on the White River Glacier

From our spot on the east side of the glacier, we had a good view back across to the crevasse we were practicing on. You can see the gear we left by the lip in the below picture…

Our practice crevasse

After taking some photos, we hiked back to our gear and decided to load up and head back to the parking lot. On the way down, I watched numerous boulders tumble from the ridge as we were hiking (not being kicked loose by our party) and rocket down into the canyon. They would have easily killed a person if they struck them had anyone been down there – a good reminder to pick a safe route and always be wary of rockfall. Once back at the parking lot around 4:30pm or so, we loaded up and drove down to Government Camp, stopping at the Ice Ax Grill for some micro-brews. It was the perfect ending to a long but worthwhile day!

The gang at the Ice Axe Grill