Forums Trip Reports TR: Blower on the Silver and Troubles in Dead Elk
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  • #574725
    spankthepow
    37 Posts

    Sunday 4/10

    Miss Spank and I had been eyeing the Silver Couloir for the past few weeks, hoping to check off another classic descent. With snow in the forecast along with high winds, we took our time and arrived at the trailhead around 11AM. We were hoping that new snow would fall/transport onto the Silver to avoid an icy descent. We made our way to the summit pretty quickly and dropped into this.

    Dropping another classic in blower was a treat, but we paid for it on the way out. We managed to turn a 4-hour day into an 8-hour day by missing the turnoff back to the trail. All the new snow had covered up any old tracks that led out and we made the mistake of following the aqueduct for quite some time, eventually realizing that we were not heading back to our car. Instead, we found ourselves in some gated community along HWY 9.

    After slogging out of the neighborhood and along HWY 9, some guy pulls over and asks if we need a ride back to the trailhead. We gladly accepted and hopped in his truck, later finding out it was Shredgnar. I got pretty confused when Shredgnar offered us beers thinking that it should be the other way around. We shared stories and chatted for a good hour or so before it got completely dark. Its funny how things work out in the end. Thanks again Shredgnar for picking up the Miss and I, we definitely owe you a few cold ones.

    Monday 4/11

    This gets part gets lengthy and I apologize, but shit hit the fan for us on this line and it could have gone differently (not an avalanche incident).

    Sinus issues have been slowing the Miss down the past few days, so she decided to stay back and rest while my roommate Kyle and I went up to RMNP to bag another line. Winds were much higher than forecasted and our original goal of the Notch Couloir didn’t look like too much fun since we would be at the mercy of the winds for a long time. We decided to go for option #2 and drop into Dead Elk Couloir, another line on my to-do list that I had been scoping for a while. We chose this because we would avoid the hike all the way around divide and I thought it would be a little more protected from winds, allowing the snow to soften up. We droppen in and rode to the downclimb, and found icy conditions as well as the winds ripping thru the choke. Not exactly what I was expecting. We slowly worked our way thru, being cautious of the ice and loose rock, and worked together to get our gear down each section.

    Kyle heading up Flattop

    Kyle beginning the downclimb

    Spank in the downclimb

    I knew well before dropping in that there was going to be a possible jump at the end of the downclimb. This aspect of the line was not a surprise. After scoping it out, I decided the left side of the boulder looked better to descend. I judged this by how deep a good-sized rock that I had pushed down had landed in the snow. It appeared to be soft on top and I assumed that winds coming thru the choke would transport snow below this boulder. It was only a 2’ drop for me, so I lowered myself till the last possible moment and then let go. This is when things went bad.

    Before I continue, here’s some POV what happened in Dead Elk.
    http://vimeo.com/22314432

    I slid. I kept sliding. I went over a boulder and slid even more. Kyle watched in horror as I came to a stop 25’-30’ below the downclimb. Somehow, I had managed to immediately get into a self-arrest position upon hitting the snow. It all happened in slow-motion as I dug my axe into the snow and held on for dear life, coming to a stop below the giant boulder I had just ridden over. I was extremely shaken up by what just happened and pretty freaked out to be 100% honest. I collected myself and I hiked back up as far as I could, only to find a section of bulletproof snow between Kyle and I. With no crampons, there was no way to get back to Kyle. Originally, we planned to hand gear down after each section to allow us to be more maneuverable. Now Kyle had two boards and the daunting task of getting down with both of them.

    At this point, all I could do was watch and be Kyle’s eyes from below. There was no way he was going to descend the same way I did, so he went back to the right side of the boulder. He placed the snowboards vertically in the snow and used the bindings as a step to allow him to step down in control while avoiding a fall into the giant gap between the rock and snow. Carefully, he strapped my board onto his pack and laid it above him. Then, he cut himself out a very small bench to lay his board on. Facing uphill, he strapped in. This was not easy. With a boulder in front of him, ice behind him, and a gaping hole beside him, words cannot describe how difficult this move was. Kyle pulled it off and then threw his pack on with my board attached to it and slideslipped down to me, where I repeated his move. With the ice axe keeping my board from moving, I strapped in facing uphill as this entire section had refrozen and a toeside edge was essential. I sideslipped down, not making a single turn until I had reached daylight and soft snow.

    Kyle and I stopped, put our axes away and gathered ourselves before making turns in heavy powder down the apron. These were some of the best turns of my life, mainly because I knew that our “ordeal” was over and we were out of there safe.

    So happy to be on the apron

    Kyle making turns

    I’ve been replaying these events over and over in my mind, not only extremely thankful to ride away without a scratch, but also with the goal of learning from this.

    Things I believe we did right:
    1) Immediately got into a self-arrest position
    2) Took our time, we carefully thought out how to get out of this situation
    3) Stayed cool. While both of us were freaking out on the inside, we remained calm visibly. This was key for both of us. It was a reassurance of sorts that we were going to be ok.

    Things I did not do right/questionable:
    1) Body position during self-arresting. I was unable to fully position myself over my axe for two reasons. I wasn’t able to pull myself up on my axe and I became too focused on the boulder, slowing my reaction to properly stop myself.
    2) I did not bring crampons. I’m torn if this would have actually helped me. If I had them on, I believe I would have tumbled head over heels. But then again, I would have made it back to Kyle.
    3) Misjudged the snow and made assumptions.

    I consider myself very fortunate. While this may not seem like much, it could have gone very differently in my opinion. I’m very thankful that I had an excellent and competent partner and friend that day. Without him, this would have been a very different experience. I made mistakes this weekend. These are the two biggest mistakes I’ve made so far. One turned out to be awesome. The other got me scared shitless.

    #639413
    ehcarley
    411 Posts

    I missed that turn on the silver too. Fuck the aqueduct. Looks like you got it good. Nice work!

    #639414
    shredgnar
    643 Posts

    Yeah, that turn is notorious. Someone should put up a sign. There actually is a red paint mark on the tree where the turnoff is but it’s not very noticeable. I missed it my first time too.

    When I saw people walking down the street with splitboards, I kinda figured out what had happened. Funny thing was, I had seen some tracks on the aqueduct a few hours earlier when I was up there looking for my lost ice axe. I noticed that they missed the turn and I thought to myself “oops! That sucks!” Then later, when I saw them walking don the street, I knew.

    Glad I could help out, and you looked like you needed the beers more than I did. :mrgreen:

    #639412
    keffler
    319 Posts

    Shits gettn’ real yo! Nice work on the self arrest and catching Silver on a good day. We cheated last time I rode Silver. I had my GPS with me and was able to find our way back with no troubles. I was sure glad we had it as I can see how one could easily miss the turn back up hill and to the trail to the car.

    #639415
    HikeforTurns
    1113 Posts

    I thought about your positioning over the axe as well. Easier said then done sometimes. Glad everything turned out ok. I think a small rope would have been more beneficial then crampons. Ive also found that when the going gets tough its better to face in during the downclimb (though if planning to jump, probably a bad idea)

    You can use this technique to rap without gear, might end up with jacket damage though….

    Looks like a great couple of days!

    #639416
    barrows
    1490 Posts

    Spank:

    First, glad you are OK, that could have turned out much worse! Way to self arrest as well, that could not have been an easy arrest.
    I would suggest that jumping onto a steep, exposed slope is something that should only be attempted as a last resort in a desperate situation. Without a rope, I suspect the best approach would have been to face in and downclimb, carrying the boards on the back. If downclimbing is totally impossible, consider another route, or even climbing up and out.
    Awesome POV as well, and way to get the Silver in what looks like blower conditions!
    Once again, glad you are OK!

    #639417
    jbaysurfer
    947 Posts

    So I watched your video. Yeah..PUCKER!

    Crampons would likely have caused you even more problems as you suspected. Self Arresting w/ Crampons requires supreme concentration NOT to dig your front points in and flip arse over teakettle. I agree w/ HFT that a small rope..hell even utility line woulda been key right there. Bowline or a webbing harness with a seated belay from above for the first person (or a deadman anchor), then lower the boards, then the second climber gets belayed from below off a second deadman while carefully downclimbing. The second climber is in risk of taking a lead-like fall, so he should be the better climber while the first needs to make sure he’s set up a bomber anchor below.

    Either that, or sling a rock horn w/ some webbing (if it was possible) take turns rapping off w/ boards on packs and leave the webbing (some folks will have ethical isssues with this, but if it’s that or slide for life..I’d deal w/ the ethics ninnys later.

    Naturally, when you’re up there w/o a rope, this is an academic discussion.

    Glad you’re OK..yeah, that was serious grippage. What was the slope like below where you arrested..that’s the part of the exposure I didn’t get a good look at from the POV.

    Edit: obviously, better then leaving webbing, a well constructed snow bollard would allow you to use the rope only and easily retrieve it.

    #639418
    spankthepow
    37 Posts

    thanks everyone,

    So I mentioned on TGR that a rope would have been nice. I have one, but I failed to bring it. Also, don’t be deceived by the POV about how “big” that jump was. My head travelled much further than my feet did, making it look bigger that it really was.

    I am familiar with rapping techniques w/o a harness as well as setting up anchors. I would have probably put these skills to use had I brought a rope.

    A snow bollard would have been difficult and very time consuming as the snow was VERY firm. I curious if there was anything to throw a sling around that wasn’t loose or insanely huge, we knocked alot of rock down unintentionally. I’ve downclimbed before and normally I would downclimb face in, but I believe facing out was a better option for me at the time because it allowed me into that self-arrest position quickly, since my hand was on the axe head the entire time. As for the board on my back….NO WAY. If you look in the video, it was very windy and it would just blown us over.

    #639419
    dude_reino
    467 Posts

    Scary! I’ve been in those helpless slides before. Not fun. I don’t think I will ever attempt this line. Glad you guys made it out alive.

    #639420
    D-GREEN
    336 Posts

    That was an awesome TR and video! I can’t believe no one has said this yet, but You Got Spanked! Some people would call that an “epic” trip/day. I would say that hind sight is 20/20 and you could have used the board as a ladder like Kyle did rather than jumping. Oh well, hind sight.
    I think you did a great job self arresting, fighting for life within the first millisecond. I bet you guys felt “alive” at the bottom of that run.
    Way to spank back, and Cheers! :guinness:

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